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Vic. Gen. 
Westmonasterii, die 12 Martii, 1917. 













"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 Athenasum (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 Athenreum (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 lind 
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 Athenceum (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 aiithor 
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). 

" We have nothing but commendation for the translation." The Tablet (Vol. V). 

" Another volume of Father Grisar s Life of Martin Luther 1 . . . confirms the belief 
that it will remain the standard Life, and rank amongst the most valuable contribu 
tions to the history of the Reformation." Yorkshire Post. 


SOCIETY AND EDUCATION (continued from Vol. F.) 

pages 3-98 


Luther s appeals on behalf of the schools ; polemical trend 
of his appeals ; his ideal of elementary education ; study of 
the Bible and the classics. The decline in matters educational 
after the introduction of the innovations ; higher education 
before Luther s day ; results achieved by Luther . pages 3-41 


Organised charity in late mediseval times. Luther s 
attempts to arrange for the relief of the poor ; the " Poor- 
boxes " ; Bugenhagen s work ; the sad effects of the con 
fiscation of Church-property ; and of the doctrine that good 
works are valueless . wages 42-65 


Whether Luther s claim can stand that he was the first to 
preach the dignity of worldly callings ? His depreciation 
of the several classes of the nation due to his estrangement 
from them. Attitude towards the merchant-class. His Old- 
Testament ideas react on his theories about usury and 
interest ; his views on the lawfulness of permanent invest 
ments, etc. ........ pages 05-98 


INNER LIFE. HIS AILMENTS . . . pages 99-186 


Fits of fear, palpitations, swoons, nervousness ; his 
temptations no mere morbid phenomena . . pages 99-112 


Temptations to despair. The shadow of pseudo-mysti 
cism. Temptations of the flesh . . . . pages 112-122 


The statements regarding Luther s intercourse with the 
beyond and his visions of the devil. The misunderstood 
reference to his disputation with the devil on the Mass. His 
belief in possession and exorcism . . . pages 122-140 



His conviction that he was the recipient of a special revela 
tion ; his apparent withdrawals of this claim. His so-called 
" temptations " viewed by him as confirming his mission ; 
his persuasion that the Pope is Antichrist, that his opponents 
are all egged on by the devil and that no man on earth can 
compare with him. His tendency to self-contradiction ; his 
changeableness, his feverish polemics . . . pages 141-171 



Whether Luther s mind was abnormal, or whether all his 
symptoms are to be explained by uric acid, or by degeneracy 

pages 172-186 

MENT OF HIS EARLY LIFE . . . pages 187-236 



The legend about his first appearance on the field of history. 
His supposed excessive holiness-by-works during his monastic 
days . . . . . . . . pages 187-205 


Inward peace and happiness in his monastic days ; his 
vows and their breach ; some peculiarities of his humility ; 
his feverish addiction to his work ; the facts around which 
his later legend grew ..... pages 205-229 


Forged in the solitude of the Coburg. His characteristic 
passage from the " I " to the " we." His monkish " experi 
ence " useful to him ..... pages 229-236 

CHURCH-BY-LAW . . . . . pages 237-340 


Freedom as Luther s early watchword. Intolerance 
towards Catholics, in theory, and in practice. Sanguinary 
threats against all papists ; the death-penalty pronounced 
against " sectarians " at home ; his justification : blasphemy 
must be put down. The people driven to the new preaching ; 
no freedom of conscience allowed : Luther s intolerance 
imitated by his friends . ... . pages 237-279 


The pigheadedness and arrogance of all the "sectarians." 
None of them are sure of their cause ; none of them can work 
miracles pages 279-289 



Luther s invisible Church ; her marks ; only the pre 
destined are members ; his shifting theory . . pages 290-308 


The Church materialises in Articles and a Ministry set up 
by Wittenberg with the sovereign as " emergency-bishop." 
The results of State-interference . . pages 309-325 


The Erfurt preachers at variance with the Town-Council. 
Luther shifts his ground in his controversies with the 
Catholics. How the Church, in spite of Christ s promises, 
contrived to remain plunged in error for over a thousand 
years. Luther s interpretation of Christ s words " On this 
rock " . . . . pages 325-340 



His depression gets the better of him and he leaves the 
town " for ever." Change of air sweetens his temper and he 
returns and resumes his work with new ardour . pages 341-351 


Quarrels with the Swiss and with New Believers nearer 
home ; with the lawyers regarding clandestine marriages ; 
the State proves a cause of vexation on account of its inter 
ference in matters which concern the preachers. Luther s 
fears for the future ; encroachments of human reason ; the 
coming collapse of morals. .... pages 351-369 


Thoughts of death. His last visit to Mansfeld, to act as 
arbitrator between the Counts. The versions of his last 
moments ....... pages 370-381 


The tale of Luther s suicide, of the disappearance of his 
body, etc. Who was responsible for the habit of concocting 
such stories . .... pages 381-386 

CHAPTER XL. AT THE GRAVE . . . pages 387-462 


Extracts from the panegyrics and early biographies ; 
medals struck in his honour ; his epitaphs . . pages 387-394 



Luther s defiance of the whole world, whilst evoking their 
wonder, failed to secure the admiration of Catholics. 
Whether Luther s undoubted strength of will makes of him 


a " great man." The part played by other factors in the 
movement he inaugurated .... pages 394407 



Defeat of the Schmalkalden Leaguers. Osiandric, 
Majorite, Adi aphoristic, Synergistic and Cryptocalvinist 
controversies . . . . . . . pages 407-423 



The Lutherans are induced to adopt the Formula of 
Concord as a counterblast against the Council of Trent. 
Catholic theology benefits by the new controversies ; the 
Church s religious life is deepened ; progress in catechetical 
instruction, in matters educational, Bible-study and 
Church-history . . .... pages 423-439 



Their "mediaeval" attitude. Luther the "Prophet of the 
Germans," a New Elias and John the Baptist . pages 440-444 


Each in their own way make of Luther their forerunner 
and breathe into him their own ideals . . pages 444-448 


The Romanticists ; liberal theologians ; independent 
historians ; the Janus-Luther, with one face looking back on 
the Middle Ages and the other turned to the coming world. 
Ritschl, E. M. Arndt. Luther the hero of Kultur ? Hous 
ton S. Chamberlain s picture of the " Political Luther." 
Conclusion . . . . . . pages 449-462 

LOGICAL ORDER . . . . . pages 465-495 


pages 496-516 

The Scala Santa ; the General Confession : Oldecop s 
account of Luther s petition to be secularised ; the outcome 
for the Order of Luther s visit to Rome . . pages 496-497 


WITH HIS BROTHER FRIARS .... pages 497-501 

4. ATTACK UPON THE " SELF-RIGHTEOUS " . . pages 501-503 


6. THE TOWER INCIDENT . . . . . pages 504-510 

7. THE INDULGENCE-THESES . . . page 510 




9. PRAYER AT THE WARTBURG .... pages 511-512 


11. LUTHER S MORAL CHARACTER . . . . pages 512-513 

12. LUTHER S VIEWS ON LIES . , pages 513-515 


14. Notes : Pope Alexander VI " the Marana " ; from Bishop 

Maltitz s letters to Bishop Fabri . . . . page 516 

General Index to the six volumes 

pages 517-551 



VI. B 


CHAPTER XXXV (Continued) 

3. Elementary Schools and Higher Education 
Luther s Appeals on Behalf of the Schools 

IN a pamphlet of 1524, on the need of establishing schools, 
Luther spoke some emphatic and impressive words. 1 

There could be nothing worse, he declared, than to abuse 
and neglect the precious souls of the little ones ; even a 
hundred florins was not too much to pay to make a good 
Christian of a boy ; it was the duty of the magistrates and 
authorities to whom the welfare of the town was confided 
to see to this, the parents being so often either not pious 
or worthy enough to perform this office, or else too unlearned 
or too much hampered by their business or the cares of 
their household. The well-being of a town was not to be 
gauged by its fine buildings, but rather by the learning, 
good sense, and honourable behaviour of the burghers ; 
given this the other sort of prosperity would never be lack 
ing. Luther dwells on the urgent need of studying languages 
and sees an act of Providence in the dispersion of the 
Greeks whose presence in the West had been the means of 
giving a fresh stimulus to the study of Greek, and even to the 
cultivation of other languages. Without schools and learn 
ing no men would be found qualified to rule in the ecclesi 
astical or even in the secular sphere ; even the management 
of the home and the duties of women to their families and 
households called for some sort of instruction. 2 

1 " An die Radherrn aller Stedte deutschea Lands das sie Christl. 
Schulen auffrichten und halten sollen." " Werke," Weim. ed., 15, 
p. 9 ft . ; Erl. ed., 22, p. 170 ff. 

2 Weim. ed., 15, pp. 30, 34, 35 f. ; Erl. ed., pp. 22, 173, 178, 180 f. 


Owing to their innate leaning to savagery the German 
people, above all others, could ill afford to dispense with the 
discipline of the school. All the world calls us " German 
beasts " ; too long have we been German beasts, let us 
therefore now learn to use our reason. 1 

He speaks of the educational value not only of languages 
but of history, mathematics and the other arts, but above 
all of religion, which, now that the true Evangel is preached, 
must take root in the hearts of the young, but which could 
not be maintained unless care was taken to ensure a supply 
of future preachers. 

He gives an excellent answer to the objection : " What is 
the good of going to school unless we are thinking of becom 
ing parsons ? " The wholesale secularisation of ecclesi 
astical benefices had resulted in a great falling off in the 
number of scholars, the parents often thinking too much of 
the worldly prospects of their children. Luther, however, 
points out that even the secular offices deserve to be filled 
with men of education. " How useful and called for it is, and 
how pleasing to God, that the man destined to govern, 
whether as Prince, lord, councillor or otherwise, should be 
learned and capable of performing his duty as becomes a 
Christian." 2 te- 

I t * 

This booklet, which is of great interest for the history of 
the schools, was translated into Latin in the same year by 
Vincentius Obsopceus (Koch) and published at Hagenau, 
with a preface by Melanchthon. 3 It also became widely 
known throughout Germany, being frequently reprinted in 
the original tongue. As the title shows, Luther addressed 
himself in the work " To the Councillors of all the town 
ships," viz. even to the Catholic magistrates among whom 
he stood in disfavour. He declares that it was a question of 
the " salvation and happiness of the whole German land. 
And were I to hit upon something good, even were I myself 
a fool, it would be no disgrace to anyone to listen to me." 4 

1 In such passages " beast " more often merely implies stupidity ; 
cp. " bete " in French. Hence it would be a mistake to think that 
Luther is here crediting the Germans with any actual " bestiality." 
Cp. below, p. 15 and above, vol. v., p. 534, n. 2. 

2 Weim. ed., 15, p. 44 ; Erl. ed., 22, p. 189. 
8 " De constituendis scholis," etc. 

4 Weim. ed., 15, p. 53 ; Erl. ed., 22, p. 198. 


In thus calling for the founding of schools Luther was but 
reiterating the admonition contained in his writing " To the 
German Nobility." Such exhortations were always sure to 
win applause, and served to recommend not only his own 
person but even, in the case of many, his undertaking as 
a whole. 1 In his rules for the administration of the poor-box 
at Leisnig Luther had been mindful of the claims of the 
schools, nor did he forget them in the other regulations he 
drew up later. In his sermons, too, he also dwelt repeatedly 
on the needs of the elementary schools ; when complaining 
of the decay of charity he is wont to instance the straits, 
not only of the parsonages and the poor, but also of the 
schools. " Only reckon up and count on your fingers what 
here [at Wittenberg] and elsewhere those who bask in the 
Evangel give and do for it, and see whether, were it not for 
us who are still living, there would remain a single preacher 
or student. . . . Are there then no poor scholars who ought 
to be studying and exercising themselves in the Word of 
God ? " But " hoarding and scraping " are now the rule, so 
that hardly a town can be found " that collects enough to 
keep a schoolmaster or parson." 2 

Many wealthy towns had, however, to Luther s great joy, 
taken in hand the cause of the schools. Their efforts were to 
prove very helpful to the new religious system. 

In the same year that the above writing appeared steps 
were taken atlMagdeburg for the promotion of education, 
and Cruciger, ^Luther s own pupil, was summoned from 
Wittenberg to assume the direction. Melanchthon and 
Luther repaired to Eisleben in 1525, where Count Albert of 
Mansfeld had founded a Grammar School. In some towns 
the Councillors carried out Luther s proposals, in others, 
where the town-council was opposed to the innovators and 
their schools, the burghers " set at naught the Council," as 
Luther relates, and erected " schools and parsonages " ; in 
other words, they established schools as the best means to 
further the new Evangel. 3 At Nuremberg Melanchthon, 

1 A schoolmaster of Zwickau remarked on the writing to the 
Councillors : " With this pamphlet Luther will win back the favour of 
many of his opponents." Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 548. 

3 Erl. ed., H 2 , pp. 390, 389. 

^ 3 Weim. ed., 30, 2, p. 519 f. ; Erl. ed., 17 2 , p. 381, in "Das man 
Kinder," etc. The object of furthering the Evangel which is set forth 
in both this and the former writing is indicated by the very title of the 
first writing with its reference to " Christian " schools. 


a zealous promoter of education, exerted himself for the 
foundation of a " Gymnasium " which was to serve as a 
model of the new humanistic schools of the Evangelicals, 
and which was generously provided for by the town. May 6, 
1526, saw the opening of this new school. Learned masters 
were appointed, for instance, Melanchthon s friend Camer- 
arius, the poet Eobanus Hessus and the humanist Michael 
Roting. In 1530 Luther speaks of it in words meant to 
flatter the Nurembergers as " a fine, noble school," for which 
the " very best men " had been selected and appointed. 
He even tells all Germany, that " no University, not even 
that of Paris itself, was ever so well provided in the way of 
lecturers " ; it was in no small measure owing to this school 
that " Nuremberg now shone throughout the whole of 
Germany like a sun, compared with which others were but 
moon and stars." 1 

Yet it was certain disagreeable happenings at Nuremberg 
itself which led him to write in 1530 his second booklet in 
favour of the schools. In the flourishing commercial city 
there were many wealthy burghers who refused to send their 
children to the " Gymnasium," thinking that, instead of 
learning ancient languages, they would be more usefully 
occupied in acquiring other elements of knowledge more 
essential to the mercantile calling ; by so doing they had 
raised a certain feeling against the new school. Many were 
even disposed to scoff at all book-learning and roundly 
declared, as Luther relates, " If my son knows how to read 
and reckon then he knows quite enough ; we now have 
plenty German books," etc. 2 

In July of the above year, Luther, in the loneliness of the 
Coburg, penned a sermon having for its title " That children 
must be kept at school." The sermon grew into a lengthy 
work ; Luther himself was, later on, to bewail its long- 
windedness. 3 This writing, taken with that of 1524, supplies 
the gist of Luther s teaching with regard to the schools. 

1 Ib., p. 518=379, in the writing mentioned below. See, how 
ever, below, p. 36. 2 Ib., p. 519=380. 

3 " Predigt, das man Kinder zur Schulen halten solle." Weim. ed., 
30, 2, p. 508 ff. ; Erl. ed., 17 2 , p. 378 ff. As early as July 5, 1530, 
Luther wrote from the Coburg to Melanchthon that he was " medita 
ting " this writing and adds : " Mirum, si etiam anteafui tarn verbosus, 
ut nunc fieri mihi videor, nisi senectutis ista garrulitas sit." It is curious 
to hear him already speaking of his old age. When sending the finished 
work to Melanchthon on Aug. 24, 1530, he wrote : " Mitto hie sermonem 


In the preface, printed before the body of the work, he dedicates 
the writing to the Nuremberg " syndic " or town-clerk, Lazarus 
Spengler, an ardent promoter of the new teaching. A town like 
Nuremberg, he there says, " must surely contain more men than 
merchants, and also others who can do more than merely reckon, 
or read German books. German books are principally intended 
for the common people to read at home ; but for preaching, 
governing and administering justice in both ecclesiastical and 
temporal sphere all the arts and languages in the world are not 
sufficient." Already in the preface he inveighs against those who 
assert that arithmetic and a knowledge of German were quite 
enough : These small-minded worshippers of Mammon failed to 
take into consideration what was essential for " ruling " ; both 
the civil and the ecclesiastical office would suffer under such a 
system. l 

In this writing his style follows his mood, being now powerful, 
now popular and not seldom wearisome. He dwells longest on 
the spiritual office, expressing his fear, that, should the lack of 
interest in the schools become general, and the people continue so 
niggardly in providing for their support, there would result such 
a spiritual famine with regard to the Word of God, that ten 
villages would be left in the charge of a single parson. Passing on 
to the secular office he points out how the latter upholds the 
" temporal, fleeting peace, life and law. ... It is an excellent 
gift of God Who also instituted and appointed it and Who 
demands its preservation." Of this office "It is the work and 
glory that it makes wild beasts into men and keeps them in this 
state. . . . Do you not think that if the poor birds and beasts 
could speak and were able to see the action of the secular rule 
among men they would say : Dear fellows, you are no men but 
gods compared with us ; how secure you sit and live, enjoying all 
good things, whereas we are not safe from each other for a single 
hour as regards our life, our home or our food." 2 

" Such rule cannot continue, but must go to rack and ruin 
unless the law [the Roman law and the law of the land] is main 
tained. And what is to maintain it ? Fists and blustering cannot 
do so, but only brains and books ; we must learn to understand 
the wisdom and justice of our secular rule." Speaking of the 
lawyers office for which the young must prepare themselves, he 
groups under it the " chancellors, clerks, judges, advocates, 
notaries and all others who are concerned with the law, not to 
speak of the great Johnnies who sport the title of Hofrat." 3 
On the calling of the physician he only touches lightly, showing 
that this "useful, consoling and health-giving" profession 

de acholis, plane Lutheranum et Lutheri verbositate nihil auctorem suum 
negans, sed plane referens. Sic sum. Idem erit libellus de clavibua " 
(" Brief wechsel," 8, pp. 80, 204). The latter remark certainly applies 
to his long writing, " Von den Schliisseln," 1530 (Weim. ed., 30, 2, 
p. 428 ff. ; Erl. ed., 31, p. 126 ff.). 

1 Weim. ed., 30, 2, p. 519 ; Erl. ed., 17 2 , p. 381. 

2 P. 554=401, 402. 3 Pp. 556, 559=403, 404. 


demands the retention of the Latin schools, short of which it must 
fall into decay. 

The following hint was a practical one : Seeing that, in Saxony 
alone, about 4000 men of learning were needed what with 
chaplains, schoolmasters and readers those who wished to study 
had good prospects of " great honours and emoluments since two 
Princes and three townships were all ready to fight for the 
services of one learned man." He urges that assistance should be 
given to poor parents out of the Church property so as to enable 
them to send their children to school, and that the rich should 
make foundations for this purpose. 

In this writing, as in that of 1524, he addresses himself to the 
secular authorities and even demands that they should compel 
their subjects to send their children to school in order that the 
supply of capable men might not fail in the future. I consider, 
he says, " that the authorities are bound to force those under 
them to see to the schooling of their children, more particularly 
those just spoken of [the more gifted] ; for it is undoubtedly their 
duty to see to the upkeep of the above-mentioned offices and 
callings." If in time of war they could compel their subjects to 
render assistance and resist the enemy, much more had they the 
right to coerce them in respect of the children, seeing that this 
was a war against the devil who wished to despoil the land and 
the townships of able men, so as to be able " to cheat and delude 
them as he pleased." 1 

As regards the question whether all children were to be 
forced to go to school, in this writing Luther does not speak 
of any universal compulsion ; only " when the authorities 
see a capable lad " 2 does he wish coercion to be applied to 
the parents. In his first writing on the schools likewise, he 
had not advocated universal compulsion but had merely 
pointed out that it was " becoming " that the authorities 
should interfere where the parents neglected their duty ; 3 he 
does not say how they are to " interfere," but merely 
suggests that one or two " schoolmasters " should be pro 
vided whose salary should not be grudged. 

" Hence it is incorrect," rightly remarks Kawerau, " to 
represent Luther as the harbinger of universal compulsory 
education." 4 

Fr. Lambert of Avignon, in his ecclesiastical regulations 
dating from 1526, indeed sought to establish national 
schools throughout Hesse, but his proposals were never 

1 P. 586=420 f. 2 P. 587=421. 

3 /&., 15, p. 34=22, p. 178. 

4 " Reformation und Gegenroformation " (VV. Moller, " Lehrb. der 
KG."), 3 3 , p. 437, No. 2. 


enforced. It was only at the beginning of the 17th century 
that Wolfgang Ratke (Ratichius, fl 6 35), a pedagogue 
educated in the Calvinistic schools, established the principle 
of universal education which then was incorporated in the 
educational regulations of Weimar in 1619. 1 But the Thirty 
Years War put an end to these attempts, and it was only in 
the 18th century that the principle of compulsory State 
education secured general acceptance, and then, too, owing 
chiefly to non-Lutheran influences. 

Before entering further into the details of Luther s 
educational plans we must cast a glance at a factor which 
seems to permeate both the above writings. 

Polemical Trend of Luther s Pedagogics 

If we seek to characterise both the writings just spoken 
of we find that they amount to an appeal called forth by 
the misery of those times for some provision to be made to 
ensure a supply of educated men for the future. Frederick 
Paulsen describes them, particularly the earlier one, as 
nothing more than a " cry for help, wrung from Luther by 
the sudden, general collapse of the educational system which 
followed on the ecclesiastical upheaval." 2 They were not 
dictated so much by a love for humanistic studies as such or 
by the wish to further the interests of learning in Germany, 
as by the desire to fill the secular-government berths with 
able, " Christian " men, and, above all, to provide preachers 
and pastors for the work Luther had commenced and for the 
struggle against Popery. The schools themselves were un 
obtrusively to promote the new Evangel amongst the young 
and in the home. Learning, according to Luther, as a 
Protestant theologian expressed it, was to enter " into the 
service of the Evangel and further its right understanding " ; 
" the religious standpoint alone was of any real interest 
to him." 3 

Melanchthon s attitude to the schools was more broad- 
minded. To some extent his efforts supplied what was 
wanting in Luther. 4 His object was the education of the 
people, whereas, in Luther s eyes, the importance of the 

1 Cp. Kawerau, ib, 

2 " Gesch. des gelehrten Unterrichts," etc., I 2 , 1896, p. 197. 
8 See below, p. 20, n. 3. 4 See above, vol. iii., p. 361. 


schools chiefly lay in their being * seminaria ecclesiarum," as 
he once calls them. With him their aim was too much the 
mere promoting of his specific theological interests, to the 
" preservation of the Church." 1 

According to Luther the first and most important reason for 
promoting the establishment of schools, was, as he points out to 
the " Councillors of all the Townships," to resist the devil, who, 
the better to maintain his dominion over the German lands, was 
bent on thwarting the schools ; " if we want to prick him on a 
tender spot then we may best do so by seeing that the young 
grow up in the knowledge of God, spreading the Word of God and 
teaching it to others." 2 " The other [reason] is, as St. Paul says, 
that we receive not the grace of God in vain, nor neglect the 
accepted time." The " donkey-stables and devil-schools " kept 
by monks and clergy had now seen their day ; but, now that the 
" darkness " has been dispelled by the " Word of God," we have 
the " best and most learned of the youths and men, who, equipped 
with languages and all the arts, can prove of great assistance." 
" My dear, good Germans, make use of God s grace and His Word 
now you have it ! For know this, the Word of God and His grace 
is indeed here." 3 

In many localities preachers of the new faith were in request, 
moreover, many of the older clergy, who had passed over to 
Luther s side, had departed this life or had been removed by the 
Visitors on account of their incapacity or moral shortcomings. 
Those who had replaced them were often men of no education 
whatever. The decline of learning gave rise to many difficulties. 
Schoolmasters were welcomed not only as simple ministers but, as 
we have heard Luther declare, even as the candidates best fitted 
for the post of superintendent. 4 How frequently people of but 
slight education were appointed pastors is plain from the lists of 
those ordained at Wittenberg from 1537 onwards ; amongst these 
we find men of every trade : clerks, printers, weavers, cobblers, 
tailors, and even one peasant. Seven years later, when the handi 
craftsmen had disappeared, we constantly find sextons and 
schoolmasters being entrusted with the ministerial office. 5 

1 " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 2, p. 15 : " Scholce crescentes verbi Dei 
aunt fructus," says Luther, " et ecclesiarum seminaria " ; if these are 
furthered, then, so God will, things will be in a better case (in Reben- 
stock : " Hcec si promoveantur, tune Deo volente, nostrum inceptum 
meliorem habebit progressum "). 76., p. 14 : Although the work of the 
schools was performed quietly, " attamen magnum fructum exhibent, 
ex quibus ecclesiae conservatio consistit . . . Inde collaborators et ludi- 
magistri vocantur ad ministerium ecclesice" Cp. Mathesius, " Tisch- 
reden " (Kroker), p. 208 : " Wretched parsonages are not the place for 
schoolmasters " ; they deserve to be superintendents and to rule over 
others. /&., p. 213 on the importance of the schools. 

a Weim. ed., 15, p. 29 f. ; Erl. ed., 22, p. 173. 

3 /&., p. 35 f.= 175. * See also above, n. 1. 

5 Proofs in G. Rietschel, " Luther und die Ordination," 2 , 1889. 
Cp. Paulsen, p. 203. 


This sad state of things must be carefully kept in mind if we 
are to understand the ideas which chiefly inspired the above 
writings, and as these have not so far been sufficiently empha 
sised we may be permitted to make some reference to them. 

" We must have men," says Luther in his first writing, viz. 
that addressed to the councillors, " men to dispense to us God s 
Word and the sacraments and to watch over the souls of the 
people. But whence are we to get them if the schools are allowed 
to fall to ruin and other more Christian ones are not set up ? " l 
" Christendom has always need of such prophets to study and 
interpret the Scriptures, and, when the call comes, to conduct 
controversy." 2 Similar appeals occur even more frequently in 
the other writing, viz. that dedicated by Luther to his friend at 
Nuremberg. Already in his first writing, Luther, as the ghostly 
counsellor of Germany " appointed " in Christ s name, boldly 
faces all other teachers, telling the Catholics, that what he was 
seeking was merely the " happiness and salvation " of the 
Fatherland. 3 In the second he expressly states that it is to all 
the German lands that he their "prophet" is speaking : "My 
dear Germans, I have told you often enough that you have heard 
your prophet. God grant that we may obey His Word." 4 So 
entirely does he identify the interests of his Church with those of 
the schools. Well might those many Germans who did not hold 
with him and at that time Luther was an excommunicate outlaw 
well might they have asked themselves with astonishment 
whence he had the right to address them as though he were the 
representative and mouthpiece of the whole of Germany. Such 
exhortations have, however, their root in his usual ideas of 
religion and in the anxiety caused by the urgent needs of the time. 

At the Coburg the indifference, coldness and avarice of his 
followers appears to him in an even darker light than usual. He 
well sees that if the schools continue to be neglected as they have 
been hitherto the result will be a mere " pig sty," a " hideous, 
savage horde of * Tatters and Turks." Hence he fulminates 
against the ingratitude displayed towards the Evangel and 
against the stinginess which, though it had money for everything, 
had none to spare for the schools and the parsons ; the imagery 
to which he has recourse leaves far behind that of the Old Testa 
ment Prophets. 

Here we have the real Luther whom, as he himself admits, 
though in a different sense, stands revealed in this writing penned 
at the Coburg. 6 " Is this not enough to arouse God s wrath ? . . . 
Verily it would be no wonder were God to open wide the doors 
and windows of hell and rain and hail on us nothing but devils, 
or were He to send fire and brimstone down from heaven and 
plunge us all into the abyss of hell like Sodom and Gomorrha . . . 
for they were not one- tenth as wicked as Germany is now." 6 

1 Weim. ed., 15, p. 47 f. ; Erl. ed., 22, p. 193. 

2 76., p. 40=185. 3 Ib., p. 53=198. 

4 Ib., 30, 2, p. 588= 17 2 , p. 421 f. 6 See above, p. 6, ri. 3. 

Weim. ed., 30, 2, p. 582 ; Erl. ed., 17 2 , p. 418. 


Has then Christ, the Son of God, deserved this of us, he asks, that 
so many care nothing for the schools and parsonages, and " even 
dissuade the children from becoming ministers, that this office 
may speedily perish, and the blood and passion of Christ be no 
longer of any avail." 1 Here again his chief reason for maintain 
ing the schools is his anxiety : " What is otherwise to become of 
the ghostly office and calling." 2 Only after he has considered this 
question from all sides and demonstrated that his Church s 
edifice stands in need not merely of " worked stones " but also 
of " rubble," i.e. both of clever men and of others less highly 
gifted, 3 does he come in the second place to the importance of 
having learned men even in the secular office. 

He had begun this writing with an allusion to the devil, viz. to 
" the wiles of tiresome Satan against the holy Evangel " ; he also 
concludes it in the same vein, speaking of the " tiresome devil," 
who secretly plots against the schools and thereby against the 
salvation of both town and country. 4 

The author goes at some length into the question of languages 
and declares that the main reason for learning them was a 
religious one. 

Languages enable us "to understand Holy Scripture," he 
says, " this was well known to the monasteries and universities 
of the past, hence they had always frowned on the study of 
languages " ; the devil was afraid that languages would make a 
hole " which afterwards it would not be easy for him to plug." 
But the providence of God has outreached him, for, by " making 
over Greece to the Turks and sending the Greeks into exile, their 
language was spread abroad and an impetus was given even to 
the study of other tongues." And now, thanks to the languages, 
the Gospel has been restored to its " earlier purity." Hence, for 
the sake of the Bible and the Word of God, let us hark back to the 
languages. His excellent observations on the importance of the 
study of languages for those in secular authority, though perfectly 
honest, hold merely a secondary place. The chief use of the 
languages is as a weapon against the Papacy. " The dearer the 
Evangel is to us, the more let us hold fast to the languages ! " 

So anxious is he to see the future schools thoroughly " Chris 
tian," i.e. Evangelical and all devoted to the service of his cause, 
that he expressly states that otherwise he " would rather that 
not a single boy learnt anything but remained quite dumb." 
Hence the earlier " universities and monasteries " must be made 
an end of. Their way of teaching and living " is not the right one 
for the young." " It is my earnest opinion, prayer and wish that 
these donkey-stables and devil-schools should either sink into 
the abyss or else be transformed into Christian schools. But now 
that God has bestowed His grace upon us so richly and provided 
us with so many well able to teach and bring up the young, we 
are actually in danger of flinging the grace of God to the winds." 

1 Ib., p. 584=419. 2 P. 530=387. 

3 Weim. ed., 30, 2, p. 456 ; Erl. ed., 17 2 , p. 398. 

4 P. 586=421. 


" I am of opinion that Germany has never heard so much of God s 
Word as now. . . . God s Word is a streaming downpour, the 
like of which must not be expected again." 1 

Hence the two writings differ but little from his usual 
polemical and hortatory works. They do not make of 
Luther the " father of the national schools," as he has been 
erroneously termed, because, what he was after was not 
the real education of the masses but something rather 
different ; still less do the booklets, with their every page 
reeking of the Word of God which he preached, make him 
the father of the modern undenominational schools. 2 

In fact, elementary schools as such have scarcely any 
place in these writings. What concerns him is rather the 
Latin grammar schools, and only as an afterthought does he 
passingly allude to the other schools in which children 
receive their first grounding. 3 

Luther s standpoint as to the Church s need of Grammar 
Schools is always the same, even when he speaks of them in 
the Table-Talk. 

" When we are dead," he says for instance, " where will 

1 76., 15, p. 36f.= 22, p. 181 f. 

2 Cp. F. M. Schiele, in H. Delbriick, " Preuss. Jahrbiicher," 132, 
1908, Art. " Luther und das Luthertum in ihrer Bedeutung fur die 
Gesch. der Schule und der Erziehung," p. 381 ff. P. 386 : " The 
principal motive with Melanchthon ... is the love of learning, 
Luther s motive [in the above writings] is to educate leaders for 
Christendom who shall deliver her from the unholy abominations of 
the olden days. . . . With this is connected the fact that for him 
government, whether exercised by the sovereign, the bishop, or the 
father of the family, is a work of charity." P. 384 : According to Luther 
" the erection of schools must always remain a matter which concerns 
the Christian authorities." To those historians of education, who, 
according to Schiele, are wont to ask : " Was not Luther the father of 
the national schools ? " he replies : " The matter wears a different 
aspect when viewed in the light of history." He roundly describes as 
fabulous the supposed foundation of the national schools by Luther. 
" Nor do we find in Luther s schemes for the organisation of education 
the slightest trace of any tendency to the secularisation of the schools " 
(pp. 384, 381 f.). The last words are aimed at the friends of the 
secularised or undenominational schools of the present day. 

3 In the Introduction to the Weimar edition of the writing " An die 
Radherrn " (15, 1899, p. 9 ff.) we read : " It is very characteristic of the 
reformer s attitude to the question of education in his day that he 
does not, as we might expect, give the preference to these German 
elementary schools in which we can see the beginnings of the national 
schools, but, whilst admitting their claims, insists emphatically on the 
need of a classic training." " To characterise the writing in question 
as of the utmost importance for the development of our elementary- 
school system (" Mon. Germ. Paedag." Ill, iii.) is to be unfair to it." 


others be found to take our place unless there are schools ? 
For the sake of the Churches we must have Christian schools 
and maintain them." 1 44 When the schools multiply, things 
are going well and the Church stands firm." 2 4t By means 
of such cuttings and saplings is the Church sown and 
propagated." "The schools are of great advantage in that 
they undoubtedly preserve the Churches." 3 

44 Hence a reformation of the schools and universities is 
also called for," so he writes in a memorandum, 4 immediately 
after having declared, that 4C it is necessary to have good 
and pious preachers ; all will depend on men who must be 
educated in the schools and universities." 6 

For this reason, viz. on account of the preparation they 
furnished, he even has a kind word for the schools of former 

He recalls to mind, that, even in Popery 44 the schools 
supplied parsons and preachers." 4t In the schools the little 
boys learnt at least the Our Father and the Creed and the 
Church was wonderfully preserved by means of the tiny 
schools." 6 Of a certain hymn he remarks, that it was 
44 very likely written and kept by some good schoolmaster 
or parson. The schools were indeed the all-important factor 
in the Church and the 4 ecclesia of the parson." 7 

1 Erl. ed., 62, p. 307. a Ib., p. 306. 

3 Ib., p. 297 ; cp. p. 289. 

4 Weim. ed., 19, p. 445 ; Erl. ed., 26 2 , p. 7 : " Proposal how 
permanent order may be established in the Christian community." 

6 Compare with this Luther s letter to Johann, Elector of Saxony 
(Nov. 22, 1526), advocating the Visitation ; Erl. ed., 53, p. 386 
j" Briefe," 5, p. 406). Of the final articje of the Instructions for the 
Visitors (1538), which refers to the schools, Kostlin-Kawerau says, 
2, p. 37 : " The chief point kept in view here, as in Luther s exhorta 
tions referred to above [in his writing to the Councillors], was the need 
of bringing up people sufficiently skilled to teach in the churches and 
to be capable also of ruling. Hence the regulations prescribed the 
erection of schools in which Latin should be taught." 

6 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 311, a conversation dating from 
1542-3 noted down by Heydenreich. 

7 Ib., p. 332. It may be mentioned here that amongst the German 
universities, Erfurt, where he had received his own education, always 
held a high place in his memory. " The University of Erfurt," he once 
said in later years, " enjoyed so high a reputation that all others in 
comparison were looked upon as apologies for universities but now," 
so he adds sadly, " its glory and majesty are a thing of the past, and 
the university seems quite dead." He extols the pomp and festivities 
that accompanied the conferring of the mastership and doctorate, and 
wishes that such solemnities were the rule everywhere. Erl. ed., 62, 
p. 287. 


Luther s Educational Plans 

When, in his exhortations, Luther so warmly advocated 
the study of Latin and of languages generally, he was merely 
keeping to the approved traditional lines. Although he 
values ancient languages chiefly as a means for the better 
understanding of Scripture, he is so prepossessed in their 
favour in " worldly matters " that he even praises Latin at 
the expense of German. He is particularly anxious that 
Latin works should be read ; among themselves the boys 
were to speak Latin. Recommending the study of tongues, 
he says : " If we make such a mistake, which God forbid, 
as to give up the study of languages, we shall not only lose 
the Gospel but come to such straits as to be unable to read 
or write aright either Latin or German." The education of 
earlier days had not only led men away from the Gospel 
owing to the neglect of languages, but " the wretched people 
became mere brutes, unable to read or write either Latin or 
German correctly, nay, had almost lost the use of their reason." 
It was statements such as these which drew from Friedrich 
Paulsen the exclamation : " Hence Christianity and educa 
tion, nay, even sound common sense itself, all depend on the 
knowledge of languages ! 5?1 

Well founded as were Luther s demands for a Latin 
education, yet we find in him a notable absence of dis 
crimination between schools and schools. 

Even in the preparatory schools he was anxious to see the 
study of languages introduced, and that for the girls too. 
Boys and girls, he says, ought to be instructed " in tongues 
and other arts and subjects." He was of opinion, that, in 
this way, it would be possible from the very first to pick out 
those best fitted to pursue the study of languages and to 
become later "schoolmasters, schoolmistresses or preachers." 2 
He even appeals to the example of olden Saints such as 
Agnes, Agatha and Lucy when urging that the more 
talented girls should receive a grounding in languages. 3 " It 
would undoubtedly have been quite enough had the less 
ambitious children been taught merely to reckon, and to 
read and write German." " Luther s action in having as 

1 " Gtesch. des gelehrten Unterrichts," I 2 , p. 198. 
8 Weim ed., 15, p. 46 f. ; Erl. ed., 22, p. 192. 
8 Cp. Kdstlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 37. 


many children of the people as possible taught languages 
. . . and his warfare against the use of German in the 
schools, whether in the towns, the villages, or the hamlets, 
was all very unpractical. . . . He had come to the con 
clusion that German schools, for one reason or another, were 
unsuited to be nurseries for the Church ( seminaria ecclesice ), 
hence his effort to transplant into the Latin grammar 
schools every sapling on which he could lay hands." 1 

The injunctions appended to Melanchthon s Visitation rules 
(1538), which were sanctioned and approved of by Luther, lay 
such stress on the teaching of languages that the humbler schools 
were bound to suffer. When dealing with " the schools " their 
only object seems to be the " upbringing of persons fit to teach 
in the churches and to govern." And this aim, moreover, is 
pursued onesidedly enough, for we read : " The schoolmasters 
are in the first place to be diligent to teach the children only 
Latin, not German, or Greek, or Hebrew, as some have hitherto 
done, thus overburdening the poor children s minds." The 
regulations then proceed to prescribe in detail the studies to be 
undertaken in the lowest form : "In order that the children may 
get hold of many Latin words, they are to be made to learn some 
words every evening, as was the way in the schools in former 
days." After the children have learnt to spell out the handbook 
containing the " Alphabet, the Our Father, Creed and other 
prayers they are to be set to Donatus and Cato ... so that they 
may thus learn a number of Latin words and gain a certain 
readiness of speech (* copia dicendi )." Apart from this the 
lowest form is to be taught only writing and " music." 

The next class was to learn grammar (needless to say Latin 
grammar) and to be exercised in ^Esop s Fables, the " Pedologia " 
of Mosellanus and the " Colloquia " of Erasmus, such of the latter 
being selected " as are useful for children and not improper." 
" Once the children have learnt ^Esop they are to be given Terence, 
which they must learn by heart." There is no mention made here 
of any selection, this possibly being left to the teacher ; in the 
case of Plautus, who was to follow Terence, this is expressly 
enjoined. Of the religious instruction we read : Seeing it is 
necessary to teach the children the beginnings of a Godly, 
Christian life, " the schoolmaster is to catechise the whole [2nd] 
class, making the children recite one after the other the Our 
Father, the Creed and the Ten Commandments." The school 
master was to " explain " these and also to instil into the children 
such points as were essential for living a good life, such as the 

1 Schiele (above, p. 13, n. 2), p. 389, where he adds : " What the 
children needed to fit them for household work they could as a matter 
of fact have learnt better from their parents or at the dame-school than 
in the Councillors schools which Luther so extols." Cp. above, p. 7, 
Luther s statement : " German books are principally intended for the 
common people to read at home," etc. 


" fear of God, faith and good works." The schoolmaster was not 
to get the children into the habit of " abusing monks or others, 
as many incompetent masters do." Finally, it was also laid down 
that those Psalms which exhort to the " fear of God, faith and 
good works " were to be learnt by heart, especially Psalms cxii., 
xxxiv., cxxviii., cxxv., cxvii., cxxxiii. (cxi., xxxiii., cxxvii., cxxiv., 
cxxvi., cxxxii.), the Gospel of St. Matthew was also to be ex 
plained and perhaps likewise the Epistles of Paul to Timothy, 
the 1st Epistle of John and the Book of Proverbs. 

In the 3rd class, in addition to grammar, versification, dialec 
tics and rhetoric had to be studied, the boys being exercised in 
Virgil and Cicero (the " Officia " and " Epistolce familiares "). 
" The boys are also to be made to speak Latin and the school 
masters themselves are as far as possible to speak nothing but 
Latin with them in order thus to accustom and encourage them 
in this practice." 1 

In his two appeals for the schools in 1524 and 1530 Luther 
is less explicit in his requirements than the regulations for 
the Visitation. According to him, apart from the language?, 
it is the text of Scripture which must form the basis of all 
the instruction. 

Holy Scripture, especially the Gospel, was to be every 
where " the chief and main object of study." " Would to 
God that every town had also a school for girls where little 
maids might hear the Gospel for an hour a day, either in 
German or in Latin. . . . Ought not every Christian at the 
age of nine or ten to be acquainted with the whole of 
the Gospel ? Young folk throughout Christendom are 
pining away and being pitiably ruined for want of the 
Gospel, in which they ought always to be instructed and 

" I would not advise anyone to send his child where Holy 
Scripture is not the rule. Where the Word of God is not con 
stantly studied everything must needs be in a state of 
corruption." 2 

In the event, the Bible, together with Luther s Catechism 
which had to be committed to memory, and the hymn-book, 
became the chief manuals in the Lutheran schools. On these 
elements a large portion of the young generation of Germany 
was brought up. 

For the study of languages Luther, like Melanchthon, recom 
mended the " Disticha " ascribed to Cato and vEsop s Fables. 

26, pp. < 
>2; Erl. 

2 Ib., 6, p. 462 ; Erl. ed., 21, p. 349 f., " An den Adel." 
VI. c 


"It is by the special mercy of God," he says, " that Cato s 
booklet and the Fables of ^Esop have been preserved in the 
schools." 1 We shall describe elsewhere the efforts he himself 
made to expurgate the editions of ^Esop which had become 
corrupted by additions offensive to good morals. Various Latin 
classics which Humanists were wont to put in the hands of the 
scholars he characterised in his Table-Talk as unsuitable for 
school use. " It would be well that the books of Juvenal, Martial, 
Catullus and also Virgil s Priapeia were weeded out of the 
land and the schools, banished and expelled, for they contain 
coarse and shameless things such as the young cannot study with 
out grievous harm." 2 Of the Roman writers (with the Greeks he 
is much less at home) he extols Cicero, Terence and Virgil as 
useful and improving. As a whole, however, Luther always 
remained " at heart a stranger to true Humanism. . . . Though 
not altogether inappreciative of elegance of style, he is far from 
displaying the enthusiasm of the Humanists." 3 Although he 
shows himself fairly well acquainted with the writings of the three 
authors just mentioned, and though he owed this education to his 
early training, yet, in his efforts to belittle the olden schools, he 
complains, that " no one had taught him to read the poets and 
historians," but, that, on the other hand, he had been obliged to 
study the " devil s ordure and the philosophers." 4 

It must not be overlooked that he, like the Instructions for 
the Visitors, recommends that Terence and other olden dramatists 
should be given to the young to be read, and even acted, though, as 
he admits, they " sometimes contain obscenities and love stories." 
This advice he further emphasised in 1537 by declaring that a 
Protestant schoolmaster of Bautzen was in the right, when, 
regardless of the scandal of many, he had Terence s " Andria " 
performed. Luther agreed with Melanchthon in thinking that 
the picture of morals given in this piece was improving for the 
young ; also that the disclosure of the " cunning of women, 
particularly of light women," was instructive ; the boys would 
thus learn how marriages were arranged, and, after all, marriage 
was essential for the continuance of society : Even Holy Scrip 
ture contained some love stories. " Thus our people ought not to 
accuse these plays of immorality or declare that to read or act 
them was prohibited to a Christian." 6 

The regulations for the Protestant schools, in following Luther 
in this matter, merely trod in the footsteps of the older German 
Humanists, who had likewise placed Terence and Plautus in the 
hands of their pupils, On the contrary Jakob Wimpfeling, the 
" Teacher of Germany," was opposed to them and wished to see 
Terence banished from the schools in the interests of morality. 

1 Erl. ed., 62, p. 458 f., " Tischreden." 

2 16., p. 344. 

3 Paulsen, ib., p. 204. O. Schmidt, " Luther s Bekanntschaft mit 
den Klassikern," Leipzig, 1883. 

* " An die Radherrn," Weim. ed., 15, p. 46 ; Erl. ed., 22, p. 191 f. 
5 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 431. Uttered in 1537 and noted by 
Lauterbach and Weller. 


At a later date in the Catholic Grammar schools this author was 
on moral grounds forbidden to the more youthful pupils, and only 
read in excerpts. 1 

In his suggestions on the instruction to be given in the 
Latin schools (for in reality it was only of these that he was 
thinking) Luther classes with languages and other arts and 
sciences " singing, music and mathematics as a whole." 2 
Greek and Hebrew no less than Latin would also be in 
dispensable for future scholars. He further wished the 
authorities to establish " libraries " to further the studies ; 
not, however, such libraries as the olden ones, containing 
; mad, useless, harmful, monkish books " " donkey s dung 
introduced by the devil" "but Holy Scripture in Latin, 
Greek, Hebrew and German, and any other languages in 
which it might have been published ; besides these the best 
and oldest commentaries in Greek, Hebrew and Latin, and 
furthermore such books as served for the study of languages, 
for instance, the poets and orators," etc. 4i The most impor 
tant of all were, however, the chronicles and histories . . . 
for these are of wonderful utility in enabling us to understand 
the course of events, for the art of governing, as also for 
perceiving the wonderful works of God. Oh, how many 
fine stories we ought to have about what has been done and 
enacted in the German lands, of which we, sad to say, know 
nothing." In his appreciation of the study of history and 
of the proverbial philosophy of the people Luther was in 
advance of his day. 

Owing to his polemics the judgment he passed on the 
olden libraries was very unjust ; the remaining traces of 
them and the catalogues which have been published of those 
that have been dispersed show that, particularly from the 
early days of Humanism, the better mediaeval collections of 
books had reached and even passed the standard Luther sets 
up in the matter of history and literature. 

1 Cp. Janssen, " Hist, of the German People " (Engl. Trans.), 13, 
p. 166. K. v. Raumer, " Gesch. der Padagogik," 1, Stuttgart, 1843, 
p. 272, says : " It seems to us incredible that the learning by heart 
and acting of plays so unchaste as those of Terence could fail to exert 
a bad influence on the morals of the young. ... If even the reading of 
Terence was questionable, how much more questionable was it when 
the pupils acting such plays identified themselves wholly with the 
events and personages of the drama." Cp. above, vol. iii., p. 443 f., 
Melanchthon on the Roman condemnation of the school edition of 
Erasmus s " Colloquia." Luther condemned this book of his opponent 
in very strong language. 

2 " An die Radherrn," etc., Weim. ed., 15, p. 46 ; Erl. ed., 22, p. 192. 


Very modest, not to say entirely inadequate, is the amount 
of time Luther proposes that the children should daily spend 
in the schools. Of the lower schools, in which Latin was 
already to be taught, he says, it would be enough for " the 
boys to go to such a school every day for an hour or two and 
work the rest of their time at learning a trade, or doing 
whatever was required of them. ... A little girl, too, could 
easily find time to attend school for an hour daily and yet 
thoroughly perform her duties in the house." Only the " pick" 
of the children, those, namely, who gave good promise, were 
to spend " more time and longer hours " in study. 1 

From all the above it is plain that there is good reason 
for not accepting the extravagant statement that Luther s 
writings on education constitute the " charter of our 
national schools." Others have extolled him as the founder 
of the " Gymnasium " on account of his reference in these 
works to the Latin schools. But even this is scarcely true, 
for, in them, the author either goes beyond the field covered 
by the Gymnasium or else fails to reach it. The Protestant 
pastor, Julius Boehmer, says in the popular edition of 
Luther s works : 2 " It will not do to regard the work ("An 
die Radherrn" ) as the Charter of the Gymnasium, as has 
often been done, seeing that, as stated above, it is concerned 
with both the Universities and the lower-grade schools." 3 

As to attendance at the Universities, of which Luther also 
speaks, he asks the authorities to forbid the matriculation of 
any but the " clever ones," though among the masses " every 
fellow wanted a doctorate." 4 

What he says of the various Faculties at the Universities 
is also noteworthy. With the object of reforming philosophy 
and the Arts course he wishes that of all the writings of 
Aristotle, that blind heathen master, who had hitherto led 
astray the Universities, only the " Logica" " Rhetorica " 

1 /6., p. 47=192. 

2 " Martin Luthers Werke," Stuttgart und Leipzig, 1907, p. 231. 

8 Before this Boehmer had said : " The importance of the lower 
schools, girl schools and national schools, was fully recognised. 
Luther s concern was, however, with higher education. ... It was 
not indeed his intention to promote classical studies as such, but he 
wished to see them harnessed to the service of the Gospel and to the 
furthering of its right understanding. Hence, though Luther had in 
view other classes besides the theologians, and though he advanced 
other motives in support of his plans, still it was the religious stand 
point which was the determining one." 

4 Weim. ed., 6, p. 461 ; Erl. ed., 21, p. 350, " An den Adel." 


and " Poetica " should be retained ; " the books : 4 Physi- 
coraw, MetaphysicceJ l De anima and Ethicorum must 
be dropped " ; curiously enough these are the very works on 
which Melanchthon was later on to bestow so much attention. 
We know how hateful Aristotle was to Luther, because, 
in his heathen way, he teaches nothing of grace and faith, 
but, on the other hand, extols the natural virtues. Luther s 
impulsive and unmethodical mode of thought was also, it 
must be said, quite at variance with the logical mind of the 

According to Luther " artistic education must be wholly 
rooted out as a work of the devil ; the very most that 
can be tolerated is the use of those works which deal with 
form, but even these must not be commented on or ex 
plained." 1 

" The physicians," he says, " I leave to reform their own 
Faculty ; I shall see myself to the lawyers and theologians ; 
and, first of all, I say that it would be a good thing if the 
whole of Canon Law from the first syllable to the last were 
expunged, more particularly the Decretals. We are told 
sufficiently in the Bible how to conduct ourselves in all 
matters." Secular law, so he goes on, has also become a 
" wilderness," and accordingly he is in favour of drastic 
reforms. " Of sensible rulers in addition to Holy Scripture 
there are plenty " ; national law and national usage ought 
certainly not to be subordinated to the Imperial common 
law, or the land " governed according to the whim of the 
individual. . . . Justice fetched from far afield was nothing 
but an oppression of the people." Theology, according to 
him, must above all be Biblical, though now everything is 
made to consist in the study of the Book of Sentences of the 
schoolman, Peter Lombard, and of his commentators, the 
Gospel in both schools and courts of justice being left 
" forlorn " in the dust under the bench. 2 

He rightly commends the Disputations, sometimes termed 
" circulates" held at the Universities by the students under 
the direction of their professor ; it pleased him well that the 
students should bring forward their own arguments, even 
though they were sometimes not sound ; for " stairs can 
only be ascended step by step." The Disputations, in his 

1 Paulsen, " Gesch. des golehrten Unterrichts," I 2 , p. 185. 

9 Weim. ed., 6, p. 462 ; Erl. ed., 21, pp. 347, 348, " An den Adel." 


view, also accustomed young men to " reflect more dili 
gently on the subjects discussed." 1 

To conclude, we may say a few words concerning the 
incentives he uses when urging parents to entrust their 
children to the schools. 

Here Luther considerably oversteps the limits. In one 
passage, for instance, he thinks it his right to threaten the 
parents with the worst punishments of hell should they 
refuse to allow gifted children to study, in order to place 
them later at the service of the pure Word of God, or of the 
Christian rulers, as though forsooth parents and children 
had no right in the sight of God to choose their own pro 
fession. " Tell me what hell can be deep and hot enough 
for such shameful wickedness as yours ? " "If you have a 
child who studies well, you are not free to bring him up as 
you please, nor to treat him as you will, but must bear in 
mind that you owe it to God to promote His two rules." 
Should the father refuse to allow the boy to become a 
preacher, he says, then, so far as in him lies, he was really 
consigning to hell all those whom the budding preacher 
might have assisted ; compared with such a crime against 
the common weal the " outbreaks of the rebellious peasants 
were mere child s play." This he says in a printed letter 
addressed in 1529 to the town commandant, Hans Metzsch 
of Wittenberg, which served as a prelude to his pamphlet 
" Das man Kinder zur Schulen halten solle." 2 The writing 
is solely dictated by Luther s bitter annoyance at the 
dearth of pastors and the indifference displayed within his 

In this letter, as in both his works on the schools, Luther, 
whilst dealing with the excuses of the parents, at the same 
time throws some interesting sidelights on the decline in 
learning and its causes. 

The Decline of the Schools Following in the Wake of the 

In the above letter to Metzsch Luther briefly gives as 
follows the principal reason for the decay of learning : 

1 Ib., Erl. ed., 62, p. 304 f., " Tischreden." 

2 16., 63, p. 281 f. (" Briefe," 7, p. 73). Written in the middle of 
March, 1529, this served at the same time as a preface to the work by 
Justus Menius, " Oeconomia Christiana." 


People were in the habit of saying, " If my son has learnt 
enough to gain his living then he is quite learned enough." 1 

The contempt for learned studies was " largely due to the 
strongly utilitarian temper of the age." " Owing in the first 
place to the flourishing state of the towns in the 13th and 
14th century, and further to the influence of the great 
political upheaval which resulted from the discoveries and 
inventions of the day, a sober, practical spirit, directed 
solely to material gain, had been aroused throughout a wide 
section of the German nation. Preference was shown for 
the German schools where writing and reckoning were 
taught and which prepared children for the calling of the 
handicraftsman or the merchant." 2 Against this tendency 
of the day Luther enters the lists particularly in his second 
work on the schools dedicated to the syndic of Nuremberg ; 
at the same time he deals, not in the best of tempers, with 
the objections advanced by the merchant and industrial 
classes. 3 He speaks so harshly as almost to place in the 
same category those who refused to bring up their children 
" to art and learning " and those who turned them " into 
mere gluttons and sucking pigs, intent on food alone " (to 
Metzsch). " The world would thus become nothing but a 
pig-sty " ; these " gruesome, noxious, poisonous parents 
were bent on making simple belly servers of their children," 
etc. 4 

It is a question, however, whether the development of the 
material trend, so surprisingly rapid, with its destructive 
influence on study was not furthered by the religious revolu 
tion with which it coincided. Luther had sapped the 
respect which had obtained for the clerical life and for those 
callings which aimed at perfection, while at the same time, 
by belittling good works he loosened the inclinations of the 
purely natural man ; by his repudiation of authority he had 
produced an intellectual self-sufficiency or rather self-seeking, 
which, in the case of many, passed into mere material 
egotism, though, of course, Luther s work cannot be directly 
charged with the utilitarianism of the day. 

What, however, made his revolt to contribute so greatly 

1 76., p. 280. 

2 Thus in the Introduction to Luther s " An die Radherrn," Weim. 
ed., 15, p. 9 f. 

3 See above, p. 6. * Erl. ed., 63, p. 280 f. 


to the decline of learning was its destruction of the wealth 
of clergy and monks, and its confiscation of so many livings 
and foundations established for educational purposes. By 
far the greater number of students had always consisted of 
such as wished to obtain positions in the Church among her 
secular clergy, or to become priests in some monastery. The 
ranks of these students had been thinned of late years now 
that the Catholic posts no longer existed, that the founda 
tions which formerly provided for the upkeep of students 
had disappeared and that an avalanche of calumny and 
abuse had descended on the monasteries, priests and monks. 1 
In addition to this there was the fear aroused in Catholic 
parents and pastors by the unhappy controversies on 
religion, lest the young should be infected in the higher 
schools these being so frequently hot-beds of the modern 
spirit, of hypercriticism and apostasy. Then, again, there 
was the distrust, springing from a similar motive, felt by 
the Catholic authorities for the centres of learning, and their 
niggardliness in making provision for them, an attitude 
which we meet with, for instance, in Duke George of Saxony. 
This was encouraged in the case of the rulers by the fear of 
social risings, such as they had experienced in the Peasant 
War, and which they laid to the charge of the new ideas on 

Among those favourable to Lutheranism the Wittenberg 
professor himself awakened a distaste for the Universities by 
telling them they must not allow their sons to study where 
Holy Scripture " did not rule " and " where the Word of 
God was not unceasingly studied." 2 No one ever depreciated 
the Universities as much as Luther, who principally because 
their character was still Catholic, was never tired of calling 
them the " gates of hell," and places worse than Sodom and 
Gomorrha. 3 Nor did he stop short at the condemnation of 

1 Luther expressed this in his way as follows : Of all " the wiles of 
Satan " this, aimed at the holy Gospel, was perhaps the worst, for it 
suggested to men such dangerous ideas as these : Now that there is 
" no longer any hope for the monks, nuns or priestlings there is no 
need of learned men or of much study, but we must rather strive after 
food and wealth," " truly a masterpiece of diabolical art," for creating 
" in the German lands a wild, hideous mob of Tatters or Turks." 
Weim. ed., 30, 2, p. 522 f. ; Erl. ed., 17 2 , p. 383, Preface to the work on 
the schools (1530). 

" Werke," ib., 6, p. 462=21, p. 349 f., " An den Adel." 

8 The violence of the tone in which Luther speaks of the Universities 
in the writings which followed his "An den Adel," as the real strong- 


their religious attitude. Luther s antagonism to the whole 
system of philosophy, which the Universities, following the 
example of Aristotle and the schoolmen, had been so 
criminal as to admit, to the liberty they allowed to crazy 
human reason in spiritual matters, and to their champion 
ship of natural truth and natural morality as the basis of 
the life of faith, all this, when carried to its logical con 
clusion, necessarily brought Lutheranism into fatal conflict 
with the learned institutions. 

As Friedrich Paulsen points out : " Luther shared all the 
superstitions of the peasant in their most pronounced form ; the 
methods of natural science were strange to him and any scattering 
of the prevalent delusions he would have looked upon as an 
abomination." 1 The latter part of the quotation certainly holds 
good in those cases where Luther fancied that Holy Scripture or 
his explanation of it was ever so slightly impugned. When, on 
June 4, 1539, the conversation at table turned on Copernicus 
and his new theory concerning the earth, of which the latter had 
been convinced since 1507, Luther appealed (just as later oppo 
nents of the theory were to do) to Holy Scripture, according to 
which " Josue bade the sun to stand still and not the earth." The 
new astronomer wants to prove that the earth moves. " But 
that is the way nowadays : whoever wishes to seem clever, pays 
no attention to what others do, but must needs advance some 
thing of his own ; and what he does must always be the best. 
The idiot is bent on upsetting the whole art of astronomy." 2 

Luther s condemnation of philosophy found a strong echo 
among the Pietists, who were an offshoot of Lutheranism, and 
even claimed to be its truest representatives. The loud de 
nunciations of Aristotle were, for instance, taken up by the 
theologian Zierold. 3 But even from the common people who 
looked up to him we hear such sayings as the following : " What 
is the use of our learning the Latin, Greek and Hebrew tongues 
and other fine arts seeing we might just as well read in German 
the Bible and the Word of God which suffices for our salvation ? " 

holds of the devil on earth, has perhaps never been equalled in any 
attack on these institutions either before or after his day. See passages 
in Janssen, ib., Engl. Trans., iii., passim. Some of the preachers of the 
pure Gospel, who soon sprang up in great numbers, went a step 
further : " The Word of God alone was sufficient and in order to under 
stand it what was required was, not learning, but the spirit." Paulsen, 
" Gesch. des gelehrten Unterrichts," I 2 , p. 185. 

1 " Gesch. des gelehrten Unterrichts," I 2 , p. 177. 

2 Erl. ed., 62, p. 319. The Note is by Lauterbach. Copernicus is 
not named, but is merely alluded to as " the new astrologer "= 
astronomer. His work " De orbium ccelestium revolutionibus," with 
its detailed proofs in support of the new theory of the heavens, appeared 
only in 1543, at Nuremberg. 

3 Cp. for proofs H. Stephan, " Luther in den Wandlungen seiner 
Kirche," p. 35 f. 


Luther was not at a loss for an answer. He says first : " Yes, 
I know, alas, that we Germans must always remain beasts and 
senseless animals." Then he falls back on his usual plea, viz. 
that languages " are profitable and advantageous " for a right 
understanding of Scripture ; he forgets that he has here to do 
with the common people, and that a critical or philosophical 
interpretation of the Bible was of small use to them. Such a 
thing might be profitable to those who were being trained for the 
ministry, though many even of the preachers themselves declared 
that the illumination from above sufficed, together with the 
reading of the Bible. 1 

Carlstadt was even opposed to the Wittenberg graduations 
because they promoted pride of learning and the worldly spirit 
instead of humble Bible faith. Melanchthon, at a time when he 
was still full of Luther s early ideas, i.e. in Feb., 1521, in a work 
written under the pseudonym of Didymus Faventinus, attempted 
to vindicate against Hieronymus Emser his condemnation of the 
whole philosophy of the universities ; physics as taught there 
consisted merely of monstrous terms and contradicted the teach 
ing of the Bible ; metaphysics were but an impudent attempt to 
storm the heavens under the leadership of the atheist Aristotle. 
" My complaint is against that wisdom by which you have drawn 
away Christians from Scripture to reason. Go on, he-goat," he 
says to Emser, " and deny that the philosophy of the schools is 
idolatry " ; your ethics is diametrically opposed to Christ ; at 
the Universities human reason had degraded the Church to 
Sodomitic vices. Nothing more wicked and godless than the 
Universities had ever been invented ; no pope, but the devil 
himself was their author ; this even Wiclif had declared, and he 
could not have said anything wiser or more pious. The Jews 
offered young men to Moloch, a prelude to our Universities where 
the young are sacrificed to heathen idols. 2 

To such an extent had the darksome pseudo-mysticism which 
seethed in Luther s mind laid hold for a while upon his comrade 
glaringly though it contradicted the humanistic tendency found 
in him both earlier and later. 

If we look more closely into the decline of the schools, we 
shall find that it came about with extraordinary rapidity, a 
fact which proves it to have been the result of a movement 
both sudden and far-reaching. 

" The immediate effect of the Wittenberg preaching," wrote in 
1908 the Protestant theologian F. M. Schiele in the " Preussische 
Jahrbucher " of Berlin, in a strongly worded but perfectly true 
account of the situation, "was the collapse of the educational 
system which had flourished throughout Germany ; the new zeal 

1 Weim. ed., 15, p. 36 ; Erl. ed., 22, p. 180 f., " An die Radherrn." 

2 " Didymi Faventini pro M. Luthero ad versus Thomam Placen- 
tinum oreiio," " Corp. ref.," 1, pp. 286-358, particularly p. 343. Cp. 
Paulsen, ib., p. }.86f, 


for Church reform, the growth of prosperity, the ambition in the 
burghers, the pride and fatherly solicitude of the sovereigns who 
were ever gaining strength, had resulted in the foundation on all 
sides of school after school, university after university. Students 
flocked to them in multitudes, for the prospects of future gain 
were good. Scholasticism provided a capable teaching staff, 
Humanism a brilliant one. Humanism also set up as the new 
ideal of education a return to the fountain-head and the repro 
duction of ancient civilisation by means of original effort on 
similar lines. Wide tracts of Germany lay like a freshly sown 
field, and many a harvest seemed to be ripening. Then, suddenly, 
before it was possible to determine whether the new crops con 
sisted of wheat or of tares, a storm burst and destroyed all 
prospects of a harvest. The upheaval that followed in the wake 
of the Reformation, and other external causes which coincided 
with it, above all the reaction among the utilitarian-minded laity 
against the unpopular scholarship of the Humanists emptied the 
class rooms and lecture halls. . . . Now all is over with the 
priestlings ; why then should we bind our future to a lost and 
despised cause ? . . . Nor was this merely the passing result of 
a misapprehension of Luther s preaching, for it endured for 
scores of years." 1 

As to the common opinion among Protestants, viz. that 
" Luther s reformation gave a general stimulus to the schools and 
to education generally," Schiele dismisses it in a sentence : " The 
alleged stimulus is seen to melt away into nothing." 2 

Eobanus Hessus, a Humanist friendly to Luther, who 
lectured at Erfurt University, was so overcome with grief 
at sight of the decline that was making itself felt there that, 
in 1523, he composed an Elegy on the decay of learning 
entitled " Captiva " and sent it to Luther. The melancholy 
poem of 428 verses was printed in the same year under the 
title " Circular letter from the sorrowful Church to Luther." 
Luther replied, praising the poem and assuring the sender 
that he was favourably disposed towards the humanistic 
studies and practices. He even speaks as though still full of 
the expectation of a great revival ; his depression is, how 
ever, apparent from the very reasons he gives for his hopes : 
" 1 see that no important revelation of the Word of God has 
ever taken place without a preliminary revival and expan 
sion of languages and erudition." The present decline 

1 " Preuss. Jahrbucher," 132, 1908 (see above, p. 13, n. 2), p. 381 f. 
The author safeguards himself by remarking that the above account 
contains " nothing new." In Janssen, " Hist, of the German People," 
vol. xiii., this subject is dealt with in full. 

2 P. 382. In the " Archiv fur Kulturgesch.," 7, 1909, p. 120, 
Schiele s art. is described as " an excellent piece of criticism." 


might, however, he thought, be traced to the former state 
of things when they did not as yet possess the " pure 
theology." 1 

But Hessus had complained, and with good reason, of the 
evil doings of the new believers, instances of which had come 
under his notice at Erfurt, and which had caused many to 
declare sadly : " We Germans are becoming even worse 
barbarians than before, seeing that, in consequence of our 
theology, learning is now going to the wall." 2 At Erfurt the 
Lutheran theology had won its way to the front amidst 
tumults and revolts since the day when Crotus had greeted 
Luther on his way to Worms with his revolutionary dis 
course. 3 Since then there had been endless conflicts of the 
preachers with the Church of Rome and amongst themselves. 
Some were to be met with who inveighed openly against the 
profane studies at the Universities, and could see no educa 
tive value in anything save in their own theology and the 
Word of God. Attendance at the University had declined 
with giant strides since the spread of Lutheranism. Whereas 
from May 1520 to 1521 the names of 311 students had been 
entered, their number fell in the following year to 120 and in 
1522 to 72 ; five years later there were only 14. 

Hessus wrote quite openly in 1523 : "On the plea of the 
Evangel the runaway monks here in Erfurt have entirely 
suppressed the fine arts . . . our University is despised and 
so are we." 

His colleague, Euricius Cordus, a learned partisan of 
Luther, expresses himself with no less disgust concerning 
the state of learning and decline of morals among the 
students. 4 " All those who have any talent," we read in the 
Academic Year-Book in 1529, " are now forsaking barren 
scholarship in order to betake themselves to more re 
munerative professions, or to trade." 5 

As at Erfurt, so also at other Universities, a rapid 
diminution in the number of students took place during 
those years. " It has been generally remarked," a writer 
who has made a special study of this subject says, " that in 
the German Universities in the twenties of the 16th century 

1 To Eobanus Hessus, March 29, 1523, " Briefe," 4, p. 118. 

2 Hessus had told Luther of this complaint, as is evident from the 
latter s reply. 

3 For a detailed account see above, vol. ii., p. 336 ff. 

4 Janssen, Engl, Trans., xiii., p. 258. 5 Ib. 


a sudden decrease in the number of matriculations becomes 
apparent." He proves from statistics that at the University 
of Leipzig from 1521 to 1530 the number of those studying 
dropped from 340 to 100, at the University of Rostock from 
123 to 33, at Frankfurt-on-the-Oder from 73 to 32 and, 
finally, at Wittenberg from 245 to 174. 1 The attendance at 
Heidelberg reached its lowest figure between 1521 and 1565, 
" this being due to the religious and social movements of the 
Reformation which proved an obstacle to study." Of the 
German Universities generally the following holds good : 
" The religious and social disturbances of the Reformation 
brought about a complete interruption in the studies. Some 
of the Universities were closed down, at others the hearers 
dwindled down to a few." 2 

"The Universities, Erfurt, Leipzig and the others stand 
deserted," Luther himself says as early as 1530, gazing from 
the Coburg at the ruins, " and likewise here and there even 
the boys schools, so that it is piteous to see them, and poor 
Wittenberg is now doing better than any of them. The 
foundations and the monasteries, in my opinion, are probably 
also feeling the pinch." 3 He speaks at the same time of the 
decline of the Grammar schools and the lower-grade schools 
which also to some extent shared the fate of the Universities. 

In the Catholic parts of Germany the clergy schools and 
monastic schools suffered severely under the general 
calamity, as Luther had shrewdly guessed. Nor was the 
set-back confined to the Universities, but even the elementary 
schools suffered. 

It was practically the universal complaint of the monas 
teries, so Wolfgang Mayer, the learned Cistercian Abbot of 
Alderspach in Bavaria, wrote in 1529, that they were unable 
to continue for lack of postulants ; "in consequence of the 
Lutheran controversy the schools everywhere are standing 
empty and no one is willing any longer to devote himself to 
study. The clerical and likewise the religious state is 

1 Luschin v. Ebengreuth, " Gfitt. Gel. Anz.," 1892, p. 826 f., in a 
review of Hofmeister, " Die Matrikel der Universitat Rostock," Part II., 
1891. Cp. Janssen, ib., p. 266. 

2 F. Eulenburg, " tJber die Frequenz der deutschen Universitaten 
in friiherer Zeit," " Jahrbiicher f. Nationaldkonomie u. Statistik," 3. 
Vol. 13, 1897, pp. 461-554, 494, 525. Janssen, ib. 

8 Weim. ed., 30, 2, p. 550 ; Erl. ed., 17 2 , p. 399, " Das man Kinder 
zur Schulen halten solle." 


despised by all and no one is inclined to offer himself for 
this life." " Oh, God who could ever have anticipated the 
coming of such a time ! Everything is ruined, everything 
is in confusion, and there is nothing but sunderings, splits 
and heresies everywhere ! " Yet these words come from 
the same author, who, in 1518, in the introduction to his 
Annals of Alderspach, had been so enthusiastic about the 
state of learning in Germany and had said : " Germany is 
richly blessed with the gifts of Minerva and disputes the 
palm in the literary arena with the Italians and the Greeks." 
Whereas, between the years 1460-1514 no less than eighty 
brethren had entered Alderspach, Mayer, in his thirty years 
of office as Abbot, clothed only seventeen novices with 
the habit of St. Bernard, and, of these, five broke their vows 
and left the monastery. He expresses his fear that soon 
his religious house will be empty and ascribes the lack of 
novices largely to the fate which had overtaken the schools 
owing to the innovations. 1 

" Throughout the whole of the German lands," as Luther 
himself admits : " No one will any longer allow his children 
to learn or to study." 2 At the same time contemporaries 
bitterly bewailed the wildness of the students who still 
remained at the Universities. With regard to Wittenberg 
itself we have grievous complaints on this score from both 
Luther and Melanchthon. 3 

The disorder in the teaching institutions naturally had a 
bad effect on the education of the people, so that Luther s 
efforts on behalf of the schools may readily be understood. 
The ecclesiastical Visitors of the Saxon Electorate had been 
forced to adopt stern measures in favour of the country 
schools. The Elector called to mind Luther s admonitions, 
that he, as the " principal guardian of the young," had 
authority to compel such towns and villages as possessed 
the means, to maintain schools, pulpits and parsonages, 
just as he might compel them to furnish bridges, high roads 
and footpaths. . . . "If, moreover, they have not the 
means," so Luther had said, "there are the monastic lands 

1 N. Paulus, " Wolfgang Mayer, Ein bayerischer Zisterzienserabt 
des 16. Jahrh." ("Hist. Jahrb.," 1894, p. 575 f?.), p. 587 f. from MS. 

2 Weim. ed., 15, p. 28 ; Erl. ed., 22, p. 171 f., " An die Radherrn." 

3 Cp. on Wittenberg, Janssen, Engl. Trans., xiii., 286 and below, 
xxxix, 1. 


which most of them were bestowed for this very purpose." 1 
But in spite of the measures taken by the Elector and the 
urgent demands of the theologians for State aid, even in 
towns like Wittenberg the condition of the intermediate 
educational institutions was anything but satisfactory. In 
the case of his own sons Luther had grudgingly to acknow 
ledge that he was " at a loss to find a suitable school." 2 He 
accordingly had recourse to young theologians as tutors. 

The disappointment of the Humanists was keen and their 
lot a bitter one. They had cherished high hopes of the 
dawn of a new era for classical studies in Germany. Many 
had rejoiced at the alliance which had at first sprung up 
between the Humanist movement and the religious revolu 
tion, believing it would clear the field for learning. They 
now felt it all the more deeply seeing that the age, being 
altogether taken up with arid theological controversies and 
the pressing practical questions of the innovations, had no 
longer the slightest interest in the educational ideals of 
antiquity. The violent changes in every department of life 
which the religious upheaval brought with it could not but 
be prejudicial to the calm intellectual labours of which the 
Humanists had dreamed ; the prospect of Mutian s " Beata 
tranquillitas " had vanished. 

Mutian, at one time esteemed as the leader of the Thur- 
ingian Humanists, retired into solitude and died in the 
utmost poverty (1526) after the Christian faith had, as it 
would appear, once more awakened in him. Eminent 
lawyers among the Humanists, Ulrich Zasius of Freiburg 
and Christopher Scheurl of Nuremberg, openly detached 
themselves from the Wittenbergers. Scheurl, who had once 
waxed so enthusiastic about the light which had dawned in 
Saxony, now declared confidentially to Catholic friends that 
Wittenberg was a cesspool of errors and intellectual dark 
ness. 3 The reaction which the recognition of Luther s real 
aims produced in other Humanists, such as Willibald Pirk- 
heimer, Crotus Rubeanus, Ottmar Luscinius and Henricus 
Glareanus, has already been referred to. 4 It is no less true 

1 Erl. ed., 53, p. 387. See above, vol. v., pp. 582, 590. 

2 Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 483. 

3 Cp. Chr. Scheurl, " Briefbuch, ein Beitrag zur Gesch. der Ref.," 
ed. Soden and Knaake, 2, 1872, pp. 127, 132, 138, 177. See also 
Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 790 (p. 653, N. 2). 

4 Cp. for the change in Humanism, above, vol. ii., p. 38 ff., etc. 


of the Humanists favourable to the Church than of those 
holding Lutheran views, that German Humanism was 
nipped in the bud by the ecclesiastical innovations. As 
Paulsen says : " Luther usurped the leadership [from the 
Humanists] and theology [that of the Protestants] drove the 
fine arts from the high place they had just secured ; at 
the very moment of their triumph the Humanists saw the 
fruits of victory snatched from their grasp." 1 

The event of greatest importance for the Humanists was, 
however, Erasmus s open repudiation of Luther in 1523, and 
his attack on that point so closely bound up with all intel 
lectual progress, viz. Luther s denial of free-will. 

Quite independent of this attack were the many and bitter 
complaints which the sight of the decline of his beloved 
studies drew from Erasmus : " The Lutheran faction is the 
ruin of our learning." 2 " We see that the study of tongues 
and the love of fine literature is everywhere growing cold. 
Luther has heaped insufferable odium on it." 3 He regrets 
the downfall of the schools at Nuremberg : " All this laziness 
came in with the new Evangel." 4 He wished to have 
nothing more to do with these Evangelicals, he declares, 
because, through their doing, scholarship was everywhere 
being ruined. " These people [the preachers] are anxious 
for a living and a wife, for the rest they do not care a hair." 5 

In the above year, 1523, at the beginning of his public 
estrangement with Erasmus, Luther had written : " Erasmus 
has done what he was destined to do ; he has introduced the 
study of languages and recalled us from godless studies ( 4 a 
sacrilegis studiis ). He will in all likelihood die like Moses, 
in the plains of Moab [i.e. never see the Promised Land]. 
He is no leader to the higher studies, i.e. to piety " ; in 
other words, unlike Luther, he was not able to lead his 
followers into the land of promise, where the enslaved will 
rules. 6 

Luther s use of the term " sacrilega studio, " invites us to 
cast a glance on the state of education before his day. 

Gesch. des gelehrten Unterrichts," I 2 , p. 177. 

Opp.," 3, col. 777 : " Lutherana factio . . . perdit omnia studio, 
nos ra." 

/&., col. 915 : "... intolerabili degravavit invidia." 
Ib., col. 1089 : " Tantam ignamam invexit hoc novum evangelium." 
Ib., col. 1069 : "Amant viaticum et uxorem, cetera pili non faciunt." 
To CEcolampadius, June 20, 1523, " Briefe," 4, p. 164. 


Higher Education before Luther s Day 

The condition of the schools before Luther, as described 
in our available sources, was very different from what Luther 
pictured to his readers in his works. 

According to Luther s polemical writings, learning in earlier 
days could not but be sacrilegious because Satan " was corrupt 
ing the young " in " his own nests, the monasteries and clerical 
resorts " ; " he, the prince of this world, gave the young his good 
things and delights ; the devil spread out his nets, established 
monasteries, schools and callings, in such a way that no boy 
could escape him." 1 With this fantastic view, met with only too 
frequently in Luther under all sorts of shapes, goes hand in hand 
his wholesale reprobation and belittling of the olden methods and 
system of education. The professors at the close of the Middle 
Ages were only able, according to Luther, to " train up profligates 
and greedy bellies, rude donkeys and blockheads ; all they 
could teach men was to be asses and to dishonour their wives, 
daughters and maids." " People studied twenty or forty years 
and yet at the end of it all knew neither Latin nor German." 
" Those ogres and kidnappers " set up libraries, but they were 
filled ** with the filth and ordure of their obscene and poisonous 
books " ; " the devil s spawn, the monks and the spectres of the 
Universities " when conferring doctorates decked out " great fat 
loutish donkeys in red and brown hoods, like a sow pranked out 
with gold chains and pearls." " The pupils and professors were 
as mad as the books on which they lectured. A jackdaw does not 
hatch out doves nor can a fool beget wise offspring." 

It is in his " An die Radherrn," the object of which was to 
raise the standard of education, that we find such coarse language. 

What is of more importance is that Luther seems here to be 
seeking to conceal the decline in learning which he had brought 
about, and to lay the blame solely on the olden schools. If the 
corruption had formerly been so great then some excuse might 
be found for the ruin which had followed his struggle with the 
Church. Such an excuse, however, does not tally with the facts. 

That, on the contrary, education, not only at the Univer 
sities, but also in the Latin schools, which Luther had more 
particularly in view, was in a flourishing condition and full 
of promise before it was so rudely checked by the religious 
disturbances which emptied all the schools, has been fully 
confirmed to-day by learned research. " The increased 
attendance at the Universities in the course of the 15th and 
the commencement of the 16th century is a very rapid one," 
writes Franz Eulenburg. " Hence the decline in the 

1 Weim. ed., 15, p. 29 ; Erl. ed., 22, p. 172, " An die Radherrn." 

VI. D 


twenties of the latter century is all the more noticeable." 1 
" At the beginning of the 16th century," says Friedrich 
Paulsen, " everyone of any influence or standing, strength or 
courage, devoted himself to the new learning : prelates, 
sovereigns, the townships and, above all, the young " ; but, 
shortly after the outbreak of the ecclesiastical revolution, 
" everything became changed." 2 

What had contributed principally to a salutary revival 
had been the sterling work of the older Humanists. Eminent 
and thoroughly religious men of the schools men like 
Alexander Hegius and his pupils and successors Rudolf von 
Langen, Ludwig Dringenberg, Johannes Murmellius and, 
particularly, Jakob Wimpfeling, who, on account of his 
epoch-making pedagogic work, was called the teacher of 
Germany zealously made their own the humanistic ideal 
of making of the classics the centre of the education of the 
young, and of paving the way for a new intellectual life, by 
means of the instruction given in the schools. 3 An attempt 
was made to combine classical learning with devotion to 
the old religion and respect for the Church. They also 
strove to carry out though not always successfully the 
task which was assigned to the schools by the Lateran 
Council held under Leo X ; the aim of the teacher was to be 
not merely to impart grammar, rhetoric and the other 
sciences, but at the same time to instil into those committed 
to their charge the fear of God and zeal for the faith. 4 The 
sovereigns and the towns placed their abundant means at 
the disposal of the new movement and so did the Church, 
which at that time was still a wealthy organisation. 

The number of the schools and scholars in itself proves the 
interest taken by the nation in the relative prosperity of its 

To take some instances from districts with which Luther must 
have been fairly well acquainted : Zwickau had a flourishing 
Latin school which, in 1490, numbered 900 pupils divided into 
four classes. In 1518 instruction was given there in Greek 
and Hebrew, and bequests, ecclesiastical and secular, for its 
maintenance continued to be made. The town of Brunswick 
had two Latin schools and, besides, three schools belonging to 
religious communities. At Nuremberg, towards the close of the 

1 Work cited above, p. 29, n. 2 (p. 525). 2 /&., p. 260. 

3 Janssen, " Hist, of the German People " (Engl. Trans.), 1, p. 68 ft 

* Raynald., " Annal. eccles.," a. 1514, n. 29. 


15th century, there were several Latin schools controlled by 
four rectors and twelve assistants ; a new " School of Poetry " 
was added in 1515 under Johann Cochlseus. Augsburg also had 
five Church schools at the commencement of the 16th century, 
and besides this private teachers with a humanistic training 
were engaged in teaching Latin and the fine arts. At Frankfurt- 
on-the-Main there were, in 1478, three foundation schools with 
318 pupils ; the college at Schlettstadt in Alsace numbered 900 
pupils in 1517 and Geiler of Kaysersberg and Jakob Wimpfeling 
were both educated there. At Gorlitz in Silesia, at the close 
ot the 15th century, the number of scholars varied between 
500 and 600. Emmerich on the lower Rhine had, in 1510, 
approximately 450 pupils in its six classes, in 1521 about 1500. 
Miinster in Westphalia, owing to the labours of its provost, Rudolf 
von Langen, became the focus and centre of humanistic effort, 
and, subsequent to 1512, had also its pupils divided into six 
classes. l 

The " Brothers of the Common Life " established their schools 
over the whole of Northern Germany. Their institutions, with 
which Luther himself had the opportunity of becoming acquainted 
at Magdeburg, sent out some excellent schoolmasters. The 
schools of these religious at Deventer, Zwolle, Liege and Louvain 
were famous. The school of the brothers at Liege numbered in 
1521 1600 pupils, assorted into eight classes. 

In the lands of the Catholic princes many important grammar- 
schools withstood the storms of the religious revulsion, so that 
Luther s statements concerning the total downfall of education 
cannot be accepted as generally correct, even subsequent to the 
first decades of the century. 

Nor were even the elementary schools neglected at the close of 
the Middle Ages in most parts of the German Empire. Fresh 
accounts of such schools, in both town and country, are con 
stantly cropping up to-day in the local histories. Constant efforts 
for their improvement and multiplication were made at this time. 
About a hundred regulations and charters of schools either in 
German, or in Dutch, dating from 1400-1521 have been traced. 
The popular religious handbooks were zealous in advocating the 
education of the people. 2 Luther himself tells us it was the 
custom to stir up the schoolmasters to perform their duty by 
saying that " to neglect a scholar is as bad as to seduce a maid." 3 

Luther s Success 

Did Luther, by means of the efforts described above, 
succeed in bringing about any real improvement in the 
schools, particularly the Latin schools ? The affirmative 

1 Cp. Janssen (Engl. Trans.), xiii., 9 ff. 2 Ib., i., p. 25 ff. 

3 Weim. ed., 15, p. 33 ; Erl. ed., 22, p. 177, " An die Radherrn " : 
" When I was young there was a saying in the schools : Non minus est 
negligere scholar em quam corrumpere virginem. This was said in order 
to frighten the schoolmasters." 


cannot be maintained. At least it was a long time before 
the reform which he desiderated came, and what reform 
took place seems to have been the result less of Luther s 
exhortations than of Melanchthon s labours. 

On the whole his hopes were disappointed. The famous 
saying of Erasmus : " Wherever Lutheranism prevails, there 
we see the downfall of learning," 1 remained largely true 
throughout the 16th century, in spite of all Luther s efforts. 

Schiele says : Where Melanchthon s school-regulations 
for the Saxon Electorate were enforced without alteration, 
Latin alone was taught, " but neither German nor Greek 
nor Hebrew," that the pupils might not be overtaxed. 
Instruction in history and mathematics was not insisted on 
at all. Bugenhagen added the rudiments of Greek and 
mathematics. Only about twenty years after Luther s " An 
die Radherrn " do we hear something of attempts being 
made to improve matters in the Lutheran districts. As a 
rule all that was done even in the large towns was to amalga 
mate several moribund schools and give them a new charter. 
" Even towns like Nuremberg and Frankfurt were unable, 
in spite of the greatest sacrifices, to introduce a well-ordered 
system into the schools. The two most eminent, practical 
pedagogues of the time, Camerarius and Micyllus, could not 
check the decline of their council schools." 2 

Nuremberg, the highly praised home of culture, may here 
be taken as a case in point, because it was to the syndic of 
this city that Luther addressed his second writing, praising 
the new Protestant gymnasium which had been established 
there (above, p. 6). Yet, in 1530, after it had been in 
existence some years, this same syndic, Lazarus Spengler, 
sadly wrote : " Are there not any intelligent Christians who 
would not be highly distressed that in a few short years, not 
Latin only, but all other useful languages and studies have 
fallen into such contempt ? Nobody, alas, will recognise the 
great misfortune which, as I fear, we shall soon suffer, and 
which even now looms in sight." 3 In the Gymnasium, which 

1 " Ubicunque regnat Luther anismus, ibi litterarum est interitus. Et 
tamen hoc gemis hominum maxime litteris alitur. Duo tantum qucerunt, 
censum et uxorem. C cetera prcestat illis evangelium, i.e. potestatem 
vivendi ut volunt." To Pirkheimer, 1528, from Basle. " Opp.," 3, 
col. 1139. 2 Schiele, ib., p. 391. 

3 C. Hagen, " Deutschlands literarische und religiose Verhaltnisse 
im Reformationszeitalter," 3 2 , 1868, p. 197. Janssen, ib., xiii., p. 100. 


he had so much at heart, instruction was given free owing 
to the rich foundations, nevertheless but very few pupils 
were found to attend it. Eobanus Hessus, who was to have 
lent his assistance to promoting the cause of Humanism, 
left the town again in 1533. When Hessus before this 
complained to Erasmus that he had given offence to the 
town by his complaints of the low standard to which the 
school had fallen (above, p. 32), the latter replied in 1531, 
that he had received his information from the learned 
Pirkheimer and other friends of the professors there. He 
had indeed written that learning seemed to be only half 
alive there, in fact, at its last gasp, but he had done so in 
order by publishing the truth to spur them on to renewed 
zeal. " This I know, that at Liege and Paris learning is 
flourishing as much as ever. Whence then comes this 
torpor ? From the negligence of those who boast of being 
Evangelicals. Besides, you Nurembergers have no reason 
to think yourselves particularly offended by me, for such 
complaints are to be heard from the lips of every honest man 
of every town where the Evangelicals rule." 1 Camerarius, 
whom Melanchthon wished to be the soul of the school, 
turned his back on it in 1535 on account of the hopeless 
state of things. J. Poliander said in 1540 : In Nuremberg, 
that populous and well-built city, there are rich livings and 
famous professors, but owing to the lack of students the 
institution there has dwindled away. " The lecturers left 
it, which caused much disgrace and evil talk to the people 
of Nuremberg, as everybody knows." 2 When Melanchthon 
stayed for a while at Nuremberg in 1552 by order of the 
Elector, the Gymnasium was a picture of desolation. In 
the school regulations issued by the magistrates the pupils 
were reproached with contempt of divine service, blasphemy, 
persistent defiance of school discipline, etc., and with be 
ing " barbarous, rude, wild, wanton, bestial and sinful." 
Camerarius even wrote from Leipzig advising the town- 
council to break up the school. 3 

There is no doubt that in other districts where Lutheran- 
ism prevailed Latin schools were to be found where good 
discipline reigned and where masters and pupils alike 

1 " Opp.," 3, col. 1363 aq. 

2 M. Toppeu, " Die Grundung der Universitat Kdnigsberg," etc., 
1844, p. 78. Janssen, ib. y p. 101. 3 Janssen, ib., p. 102. 


worked with zeal ; the records, however, have far more to 
say of the decline. 

Many statements of contemporaries well acquainted with the 
facts speak most sadly of the then conditions. Melanchthon 
complained more and more that shortsighted Lutheran theo 
logians stood in the way of the progress of the schools. Camer- 
arius, in a letter to George Fabricius, rector of Meissen, said in 
1555 that it was plain everything was conspiring for the destruc 
tion of Germany, that religion, learning, discipline and honesty 
were doomed. As one of the principal causes he instances " the 
neglect and disgust shown for that learning, which, in reality, is 
the glory and ornament of man." "It is looked upon as tom 
foolery and a thing fit only for children to play with." " Educa 
tion, and life in general, too, has become quite other from what 
we were accustomed to in our boyhood." Of the Catholic times 
he speaks with enthusiasm : " What zeal at one time inspired the 
students and in what honour was learning held ; what hardships 
men were ready to endure in order to acquire but a modicum of 
scholarship is still to-day a matter of tradition. Now, on the other 
hand, learned studies are so little thought of owing to civil 
disturbances and inward dissensions that it is only here and 
there that they have escaped complete destruction." 1 

What he says is abundantly confirmed by the accounts of the 
failure of educational effort at Augsburg, Esslingen, Basle, 
Stuttgart, Tubingen, Ansbach, Heilbronn and many other towns. 

The efforts made were, however, not seldom ill-advised. If it 
be really a fact that the Latin " Colloquia " of Erasmus, which 
Luther himself had condemned for its frivolity, " played a 
principal part in the education of the schoolboys," 2 then, indeed, 
it is not surprising that the results did not reach expectations. 
The crude polemics against the olden Church and the theological 
controversies associated with the names of Luther and Melanch 
thon, which penetrated into the schools owing to the squabbles 
of the professors and preachers, also had a bad effect. Again 
education was hampered by being ever subordinated to the 
interests of a " pure faith " which was regarded as its mainstay, 
but which was itself ever changing its shape and doctrines. 3 

" The form of education required for future ministers," says 
Schiele, " became the chief thing, and education as such was 
consequently obliged to take a back seat." " At the Universities 
it was only theology that flourished," the olden Hellenists died 
out and the young were, in many places, only permitted to 
attend the " orthodox " Universities. Among the Lutherans 
" the Latin schools were soon no longer able to compete with the 
colleges of the Jesuits and the Calvinists. Not a single Lutheran 
rector or master of note is recorded in the annals of the history of 
education. It is true that the so-called Kuster-sehools spread 

1 Cp. Dollinger, " Die Ref.," 1, p. 483 ff. ; 2, p. 584 ff. 

2 For proofs soe Jarissen (Engl. Trans.), xiii., p. 71 ff. 

3 " Preuss. Jahrb.," loc. cit., p. 392. 


throughout the land simultaneously with the spread of orthodoxy. 
But when we see how the orthodpx clergy despised their cate 
chetical duties as of secondary importance, and hastened to 
delegate them as far as possible to the Kiister [parish-clerk], it 
becomes impossible for us to regard such schools as a proof of 
any interest in education on the part of the orthodox, rather the 
contrary. How otherwise can we explain, even when we take 
into account the unfavourable conditions of the age, that, a 
hundred years after Luther s day, far fewer people were able to 
read his writings than at the time when he first came forward. x 

In the elementary schools which gradually came into 
being the parish-clerk gave instruction in reading and 
writing, and, in addition, tried to teach the catechism by 
reciting it aloud and making the children repeat it after him. 
The earliest definite regulations which imposed this duty on 
the clerk in addition to the catechism were those issued by 
Duke Christopher of Wiirtemberg in 1559, who also devoted 
his attention to the founding of German schools. The latter, 
however, were not intended for the smaller villages, nor did 
they receive any support from the " poor box." Nor did all 
the children attend the schools kept by the clerk. The 
school regulations issued by the Protestant Duke were in 
themselves good, but their effect was meagre. 2 In the 
Saxon Electorate it was only in 1580 that the parish-clerks 
of the villages were directed to keep a school. 3 

Finally, to come to the Protestant Universities ; it was 
only in the latter part of the 16th century that the attend 
ance, which, as we saw above, had fallen so low, began once 
more to make a better show. 

In 1540 Melanchthon expressed himself as satisfied with 
the condition of learning which prevailed in them. 4 But 
among others whose opinion was less favourable we find 
Luther s friend Justus Jonas, who, two years before this, in 
1538, wrote, that, since the Evangel had begun to make its 
way through Germany, the Universities were silent as the 

1 Ib., p. 393. 

2 Janssen, ib., p. 43. Schiele, ib., p. 593. 

3 Schiele, ib., p. 390. 

4 He even says : " Academics nunc quidem Dei beneficio omni genere 
doctrinarum ftorent." " Corp. ref.," 3, p. 1068. Bishop Julius Pflug 
informed Pope Paul III, in a letter in which he gives him a vivid 
picture of the needs of the country in order to determine him to active 
assistance : " Scholce Lutheranorum cum privatce turn publicce florent, 
nostrce frigent plane ac iacent." " Epistolae Mosellani," etc., p. 150 sq. 
Kawerau, " Reformation und Gegenreformation " 3 , (Moller, " Lehrb. 
der KG.," 3, p. 437. 


grave. 1 The testimony of Rudolf Walther, a Swiss, who 
had visited many German Universities and been on terms of 
intimacy with eminent Protestant theologians, must also 
receive special attention. In 1568 he wrote though his 
words may perhaps be somewhat discounted by his own 
theological isolation " The German Universities are now 
in such a state that, to say nothing of the conceit and 
carelessness of the professors and the impudent immorality 
which prevails, they are in no way remarkable. Heidelberg, 
however, is praised more than the others, for the attacks 
which menace her on all sides do not allow this University 
to slumber." 2 

Heidelberg was the chief educational centre of those who 
held Calvinistic views. Since 1580 the attendance at the 
University had notably increased owing to the influx of 
students from abroad. Towards the close of the century, 
with Wittenberg and Jena, it headed the list of the Univer 
sities of the new faith in respect of the number of matricula 
tions. Jena, like its sister Universities of Marburg, Konigs- 
berg and Helmstadt, had been founded as a seminary of 
Protestant theology and at the same time of Roman law, 
which served to strengthen the absolutism of the princes. 
Since the appointment of Flacius Illyricus in 1557 it had 
become a stronghold of pure Lutheranism. The theological 
squabbles within the bosom of Protestantism, here as in the 
other Universities, were, however, disastrous to peace, and 
any healthy progress. Characteristic of the treatment meted 
out to the professors by Protestant statesmen of a different 
opinion, even when they were not summarily dismissed, is 
the discourse of the Saxon Chancellor, Christian Briick, to 
the professors of the theological Faculty at Jena in 1561 : 
" You black, red and yellow knaves and rascals ! A plague 

1 G. Steinhausen, " Gesch. der deutschen Kultur," Leipzig and 
Vienna, 1904, p. 515. There we read (p. 514) in the description of the 
education given by the Protestant Universities that it was " rendered 
sterile " by the new theology. " The intellectual leaders of the time 
became more and more Court theologians. It is noteworthy that many 
of the edicts and regulations begin with an improving theological 
preface. . . . What had become of the intellectual revival of the first 
decades of the 16th century ? " Eobanus Hessus had prophesied in 1523 
that the new theology would bring in its train a worse barbarism than 
that which had been overthrown, and already in 1524 he had been 
obliged to speak of the " New Obscurantists." 

2 Ddllinger, " Die Ref.," I 2 , p. 509. 


upon you all you shameless scamps and rebels ! Would 
that you were knocked on the head, disgraced and 
blinded ! "* 

The University of Wittenberg now registered the largest 
number of students. Although on Luther s first public 
appearance crowds of students had been attracted by the 
fame of his name, yet these decreased to such an extent that 
between 1523 and 1533 not a single theological degree was 
conferred. About 1550, however, the Faculties again 
numbered about 2000 students, thanks chiefly to Melanch- 
thon. In 1598 the number is even given as exceeding 
2000. Throughout the whole of the century, from the 
beginning of the ecclesiastical schism, a considerable 
percentage of students had poured in from abroad. Of 
the wantonness of the Wittenberg students of the various 
Faculties, contemporaries as well as official documents wax 
so eloquent that the University would seem to have enjoyed 
an unenviable notoriety in this respect among the Protestant 
educational establishments. 2 The fact that, as just men 
tioned, the students were largely recruited from other 
countries must be taken into account. Wittenberg suffered 
more than the other Universities from the quarrels which, 
according to Luther, tore to pieces Protestant theology. 
What was said in a sermon in 1571 on the words " Peace be 
with you " is peculiarly applicable to Wittenberg : " Only 
see what quarrelling and envy, hatred, and persecution, and 
expulsion there has been, and still is, among the professors 
at Wittenberg, Jena, Frankfurt-on-the-Oder, Konigsberg 
and indeed all the Universities which really should be 
flourishing in the light of our beloved Evangel ; it would 
indeed be a great and heavenly work of God if all the young 
men at these Universities did not fall into such vices, and 
even become utterly corrupted." 3 

1 M. Hitter, " Matthia Flacii Illyrici Leben " 2 , 1725, p. 106 Janssen, 
ib., p. 265. 

2 For proofs see Janssen, ib., p, 286 ff. 

3 16., p. 295. 


4. Benevolence and Belief of the Poor 

Luther s attitude towards poor relief, which ever since the 
rise of Protestantism has been the subject of extravagant 
eulogies, can only be put in its true light by a closer examina 
tion of the state of things before his day. 1 

At the Close of the Middle Ages 

Indications of the provision made by the community for 
relief of the poor are found in the Capitularies of Charles the 
Great, indeed even in the 6th century in the canons of a 
Council held at Tours in 567. Corporate relief of the poor, 
later on carried out by means of the guilds, and the care of 
the needy in each particular district undertaken by unions 
of the parishes, were of a public and organised character. It 
has been justly remarked concerning the working of the 
mediaeval institutions : " The results achieved by our 
insurance system were then attained by means of family 
support, corporations, village clubs and unions of the lords 
of the manors. . . . Such organised relief of the poor made 
any State relief unnecessary. The State authorities con 
cerned themselves only negatively, viz. by prohibiting 
mendicancjr and vagabondage." 2 Private benevolence 
occupied the first place, since the very nature of Christian 
charity involves love of our neighbour. Its work was 
mainly done by means of the ecclesiastical institutions and 
the monasteries. Special arrangements also were made, 
under the direction of the Church, to meet the various needs, 
and such were to be found in considerable numbers both in 
large places and in small ; all, moreover, was carried out on 
the lines of a careful selection of deserving cases and a wise 
control of expenditure. 

The share taken by the Church in the whole work of 
charity was, generally speaking, a guarantee that the work 
was managed conscientiously. 

Though among both monks and clergy scandalous 
instances of greed and self-seeking were not wanting, yet 

1 On the contrast between mediaeval and Lutheran charity, see 
above, vol. iv., p. 477 ff., and Janssen, " Hist, of the German People " 
(Engl. Trans.), vol. xv., pp. 425-526. 

2 Adolf Bruder, art. " Armenpflege," " Staatslexikon der Gorres- 


there were many who lived up to their profession and were 
zealous in assisting in the development of works of charity. 
The mendicant Orders, by the very example of the poverty 
prescribed by their rule, helped to combat all excessive 
avarice ; their voluntary privations taught people how to 
endure the trials of poverty and they showed their gratitude 
for the alms bestowed on them by their labours for souls in 
the pulpit and in the school, and by doing their utmost to 
promote learning. 

Every Order was exhorted by its Rule to fly idleness and 
to perform works of neighbourly charity. 

There are plentiful sermons and works of piety dating from 
the close of the Middle Ages which prove how the faithful 
were not only urged to be charitable to the needy, but also 
to obey God s command and to labour, this exhortation 
referring particularly to the poor themselves, who were not 
unnecessarily to become a burden to others. Again and 
again are the words of the Bible emphasised : "In the 
sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat thy bread," and " Whoever 
will not work neither let him eat " (Gen. iii. 19 ; 2 Thes. 
iii. 10). 

In spite of this, lack of industrial occupation, the difficulty 
and even sometimes the entire absence of public super 
vision, and, in part also, the ease with which alms were to 
be had, bred a large crop of beggars, who moved about from 
place to place and who, in late mediaeval times, became a 
perfect plague throughout the whole of Germany. Hence 
all the greater towns in the 15th century and early years of 
the 16th issued special regulations to deal with the poor. 
In the matter of these laws for the regulation of charity the 
city-fathers acted independently, strong in the growing 
consciousness of their standing and duties. Lay Guardians 
of the Poor were appointed by the magistrates and poor- 
boxes were established, the management of which devolved 
on the municipal authorities. The Catholic Netherlands set 
an excellent example in this respect by utilising the old 
hospital regulations and, with their help, drawing up new 
and independent organisations. Antwerp, Brussels, Louvain, 
Mechlin, Ghent, Bruges, Namur and other towns already 
possessed a well-developed system of poor relief. 

" The admirable regulations for the relief of the poor at Ypres " 
(1525), to which reference is so often made, " a work of social 


reform of the first rank " (Feuchtwanger), sprang from such 
institutions, and these, in turn, were by Charles V in 1531 made 
the basis of his new Poor Law for the whole of the Netherlands. 
The Ypres regulations declared, that, according to the divine 
command, everyone is obliged to gain his living as far as he can. 
All begging was strictly prohibited, charitable institutions and 
private almsgiving were not allowed to have their way unchecked, 
admission of strangers was made difficult and other salutary 
restrictions were enforced, yet, on the other hand, Christian 
charity towards those unable to earn a living was warmly 
welcomed and set in the right channels. 1 

In the Netherlands, Humanism, which had made great progress 
in Erasmus s native land, co-operated in the measures taken, and 
it was here that the important " De subventions pauperum " of 
Juan Ludovico de Vives, a friend of Erasmus, of Pope Hadrian IV 
and of Sir Thomas More, and a zealous opponent of Lutheranism, 
was published in 1526. 

In the Catholic towns of Germany, particularly in the south, it 
was not merely the stimulus of Humanism but still more the 
economic and political development which, towards the end of 
the Middle Ages and during the transition to modern times, led 
to constant fresh efforts in the domain of the public relief of the 
poor. The assistance of the poor was, in fact, at that time " one 
of the principal social questions, poor relief being identical with 
social politics. To provide for the sick members of the guilds, 
for the serf incapable of work, for the beggar in the street, for 
the guest in the hostel, for the poor artisan to whom the city 
magistrates gave a loan free of interest, for the burgher who 
received cheap grain from the council, all this was, to give freely, 
to bestow alms and to perform works well pleasing to God." 2 

The gaping rift in the German lands and the chaotic conditions 
which accompanied the transition from the agrarian to the 
commercial system of economy were naturally not favourable 
to the peaceful work of alleviating poverty. It was, however, 
eventually to the advantage of the towns to form themselves into 
separate administrations, able to safeguard their own charitable 
institutions by means of an efficient police system. Thus the 
town councils took over what had been formerly to a great 
extent the function of the Church, but this they did without any 
animosity towards her. They felt themselves to be acting as 
beseemed " Christian authorities." They were encouraged in this 
by that interference, in what had once been the domain of the 
Church, of the territorial princes and the cities, which had become 
the rule in the 15th century. The more or less extensive suzerainty 

1 F. Ehrle, " Beitrage z. Gesch. u. Reform der Armenpflege," 1881 ; 
do. " Die Armenordnungen von Niirnberg (1522) und von Ypern 
(1525)," "Hist. Jahrb.," 9, 1888, p. 450 ff. Ratzinger, "Gesch. d. 
kirchl. Armenpflege " 2 , 1884, p. 442 ff. Janssen, p. 431. 

2 L. Feuchtwanger, " Gesch. der sozialen Politik und des Armen- 
wesens im Zeitalter der Reformation" ("Jahrb. fur Gesetzgebung, " 
etc., ed. G. Schmoller, N.F. 32, 1908, p. 168 ff. (I), and 33, 1909, 
p. 191 ff (II), I, p. 169. 


in Church matters which had prevailed even previous to the 
religious schism in Saxony, Brandenburg and many of the 
Imperial cities may be called to mind. In towns such as Augs 
burg, Nuremberg, Strasburg and Ratisbon the overwhelming 
increase which had taken place in the class which lived from 
hand to mouth, called for the prohibitive measures against 
beggary and the other regulations spoken of above. 

At Augsburg the town council issued orders concerning the 
poor-law system in 1459, 1491 and 1498. Those of 1491 and 1498 
sought to regulate and prevent any overlapping in the distribu 
tion of the municipal doles, the " holy alms which are com 
passionately given and bestowed daily in many different parts and 
corners of the city " ; to these were subjoined measures for 
enforcing strict supervision of those who received assistance and 
for excluding the undeserving ; whoever was able to work but 
refused to do so was shut out, in order that the other poor people 
might not " be deprived of their bodily sustenance." A third and 
still better set of poor-law regulations appeared in 1522. They 
provided for a stricter organisation of the distribution of the 
monies, and made the supervision of those in receipt of help 
easier by the keeping of registers of the poor and by house to 
house visitations. Beggars at the church doors were placed under 
special control. No breach with the ecclesiastical traditions of the 
past is apparent in the rules of 1522, in spite of the influence of the 
religious innovations in this town. From the civil standpoint, 
however, they, like the poor laws generally drawn up at the close 
of the Middle Ages, display a " thorough knowledge of the 
conditions and are true to a well-tried tradition of communal 
policy." The principal author of this piece of legislation was 
Conrad Peutinger, the famous lawyer and statesman who since 
1497 had been town clerk. He died greatly esteemed in 1547, 
after having done more to further than to check the religious 
innovations in his native town by his uncertain and vacillating 

From the Nuremberg mendicancy regulations Johannes 
Janssen quotes certain highly practical enactments which belong 
to the latter half of the 14th century. The so-called " meat and 
bread foundations," which had been enriched by the Papal 
Indulgences granted to benefactors, were not available for any 
public beggars, but only for the genuine poor. In 1478 the 
town council issued a more minute mendicant ordinance. Here 
we read : " Almsgiving is a specially praiseworthy, virtuous 
work, and those who receive alms unworthily and unnecessarily 
lay a heavy burden of guilt on themselves." Those allowed to 
beg were also obliged at least " to spin or perform some other work 
according to their capacity." Beggars from foreign parts were 
only permitted to beg on certain fixed days in the year. Conrad 
Celtes, the Humanist, in his work on Nuremberg printed in 1501, 
boasts of the ample provision for widows and orphans made by 
the town, the granaries for the purpose of giving assistance and 
other arrangements whereby it was distinguished above all other 


towns ; families of the better class who had met with misfortunes 
received yearly a secret dole to tide them over their difficult time. l 

New regulations concerning the poor, more comprehensive than 
the former, appeared at Nuremberg in 1522. These deal with the 
actual needs and are in close touch with the maxims of govern 
ment and old traditions of the Imperial cities. In them all the 
earlier charitable, social and police measures are codified : the 
restriction of begging, the management of the hospitals, the 
provision of work and tools, advances to artisans in difficulties, 
granaries for future famines, the distribution of alms, badges for 
privileged beggars, etc. The whole is crowned by the Bible text, 
so highly esteemed in the Catholic Middle Ages : " Blessed is he 
that hath pity on the poor and needy, for the Lord will deliver 
him in the evil day." " Our salvation," so we read when mention 
is made of the relief funds, "rests solely in keeping and perform 
ing the commandments of God which oblige every Christian to 
give such help and display such fraternal charity towards his 
neighbour." 2 At Nuremberg the new teaching had already taken 
firm footing yet the olden Catholic conception of the meritorious 
character of almsgiving is nevertheless recognisable in the regula 
tions of 1522. 3 

At Strasburg a new system, dating from 1523, for regulating the 
distribution of the " common alms " was established in harmony 
with the great traditions of the 15th century, and above all with 
the spirit and labours of the famous Catholic preacher Geiler of 
Kaysersberg (fl510). Janssen has given us a fine series of 
witnesses, from Geiler s sermons and writings, of the nature at 
once religious and practical of his exhortations to charity. 4 
Charity, he insists, must show itself not merely in the bestowal 
of temporal goods ; it is concerned above all with the " inward 
and spiritual goods, the milk of sound doctrine, and instruction 
of the unlearned, the milk of devotion, wisdom and consolation." 
He repeatedly exhorts the authorities to stricter regulations on 

After various improvements had been introduced in the poor 
law at Strasburg subsequent to 1500, the magistrates the clergy 
and the monasteries not having shown themselves equal to their 
task issued a new enactment, though even this relied to a great 
extent on the help of the clergy. The regulations of Augsburg 
and Nuremberg were the most effectual. It was only later, after 
the work of Capito, Bucer and Hedio at Strasburg, that, together 
with the new spirit, changes crept into the traditional poor-law 
system of the town. 

All the enactments, dating from late mediaeval times prior 
to the religious innovations, for the poor of the other great 

1 " De origine, situ, moribus et institutis Norimbergse," cap. 12. 

2 Reprint of the Regulations of 1522 according to the oldest 
revision, in Ehrle, " Die Armenordnungen," p. 459 ff. For the passage 
" Our salvation," etc., see p. 467. 

3 Ehrle, ib., p. 477 f. Feuchtwanger, ib., I., p. 184. 

4 Janssen, ib., xv., p. 439 ff. 


German towns, for instance, of Ratisbon (1523), Breslau 
(1525) and Wiirzburg (1533) are of a more or less similar 
character. Thus, thanks to the economic pressure, there 
was gradually evolved, in the centres of German prosperity 
and commercial industry, a sober but practical and far- 
sighted poor-law system. 1 

It was not, indeed, so easy to get rid of the existing 
disorders ; to achieve this a lengthy struggle backed by the 
regulations just established would have been necessary. 
Above all, the tramps and vagabonds, who delighted in 
idleness and adventure and who often developed dangerous 
proclivities, continued to be the pest of the land. The cause 
of this economic disorder was a deep-seated one and entirely 
escapes those who declare that beggary sprang solely from 
the idea foisted on the Church, viz. that " poverty was 
meritorious and begging a respectable trade." 

Luther s Efforts. The Primary Cause of their Failure 

The spread of Lutheranism had its effect on the municipal 
movement for the relief of the poor, nor was its influence all 
for the good. 

In 1528 and 1529 Luther twice published an edition of the 
booklet " On the Roguery of the False Beggars " (" Liber 
vagatorum "), a work dating from the beginning of the 16th 
century ; in his preface to it he says, that the increase in 
fraudulent vagrancy shows " how strong in the world is the 
rule of the devil " ; " Princes, lords, town-magistrates and, in 
fact, everybody " ought to see that alms were bestowed only 
on the beggars and the needy in their own neighbourhood, 
not on "rogues and vagabonds " by whom even he himself 
(Luther) had often been taken in. Everywhere in both towns 
and villages registers should be kept of the poor, and strange 
beggars not allowed without a " letter or testimonial." 2 

He was, however, not always so circumspect in his 
demands and principles. In a passage of his work " An den 
Adel " he makes a wild appeal, which in its practicability 
falls short of what had already been done in various parts of 
Germany. The only really new point in it is, that, in order 
to make an end of begging and poverty, the mendicant 

1 Feuchtwanger, ib., p. 182. For all the towns mentioned above 
see Janssen, loc. cit. 

2 Weim. ed., 26, p. 639 ; Erl. ed., 63, p. 270. 


Orders should be abolished, and the Roman See deprived of 
their collections and revenues. Of the ordinary beggars he 
says, without being sufficiently acquainted with the state of 
the case, that they " might easily be expelled," and that 
it would be an " easy matter to deal with them were we only 
brave and in earnest enough." To the objection that the 
result of violent measures would be a still more niggardly 
treatment of the poor he replied in 1520 : "It suffices that 
the poor be fairly well provided for, so that they die not of 
hunger or cold." With a touch of communism he exagger 
ates, at the expense of the well-to-do and those who did no 
work, an idea in itself undoubtedly true, viz. that work is 
man s portion : " It is not just that, at the expense of 
another s toil, a man should go idle, wallow in riches and 
lead a bad life, whilst his fellow lives in destitution, as is now 
the perverted custom. ... It was never ordained by God 
that anyone should live on the goods of another." 1 

In itself it could only have a salutary effect when Luther 
goes on to speak, as he frequently does, against begging 
among the class whose duty it was to work with their hands, 
and when he attempts both to check their idleness and to 
rouse a spirit of charity towards the deserving. 2 He even 
regards the Bible text, " Let there be no beggar or starving 
person amongst you," as universally binding on Christians. 
Only that he is oblivious of the necessary limitations when 
he exclaims : "If God commanded this even in the Old 
Testament how much more is it incumbent on us Christians 
not to let anyone beg or starve ! " 3 

The latter words refer to those who are really poor but 
quite willing to work (a class of people which will always 
exist in spite of every effort) ; as for those who " merely 
eat " he demands that they be driven out of the land. 
This he does in a writing of 1526 addressed to military men ; 
here he divides "all man s work into two kinds," viz. 
" agricultural work and war work." A third kind of work, 
viz. the teaching office, to which he often refers elsewhere, is 

1 76., 6, p. 450f.= 21, p. 335 f. 

2 Cp., for instance, the passage in the Church-Postils, Erl. ed., 14 2 , 
p. 391 : " The whoje \vorld is full of idle, faithless, wicked knaves, 
among the day labourers, lazy handicraftsmen, servants, maids, to say 
nothing of the greedy, work-shy beggars," etc. 

3 Weim. ed., 6, p. 42; Erl. ed., 16 2 , p. 87. (Longer) Sermon on 
Usury, 1520. 


here passed over in silence. " As for the useless people," he 
cries, " who serve neither to defend us nor to feed us, but 
merely eat and pass away their time in idleness, [the Emperor 
or the local sovereign] should either expel them from the 
land or make them work, as the bees do, who sting to death 
the drones that do not work but devour the honey of the 
others." 1 His unmethodical mind failed to see to what dire 
consequences these hastily penned words could lead. 

With the object of alleviating poverty he himself, however, 
lent a hand to certain charitable institutions, which, though 
they did not endure, have yet -their place in history. Such 
were the poor-boxes of Wittenberg, Leisnig, Altenburg and 
some other townships. This institution was closely bound 
up with his scheme of gathering together the " believing 
Christians " into communities apart. These communities 
were not only to have their own form of divine worship and 
to use the ecclesiastical penalties, but were also to assist the 
poor by means of the common funds in a new and truly 
Evangelical fashion. 

The olden poor-law ordinances of mediaeval times had been 
revised at Wittenberg and embodied in the so-called 
" Beutelordnung." 2 Carlstadt and the town-council, under 
the influence of Luther s earlier ideas, substituted for this 
on Jan. 24, 1522, a new " Order for the princely town of 
Wittenberg " ; at the same time they reorganised the 
common funds. 3 These regulations Luther left in force, 
when, on his return from the Wartburg, he annulled the rest 
of Carlstadt s doings ; the truth is, that they were not at 
variance even with his newer ideals. 

In 1523 he himself promoted a similar but more highly 
developed institution for the relief of the poor in the little 
Saxon town of Leisnig on the Freiberg Mulde ; this was to 
be in the hands of the community of true believers into 
which the inhabitants had formed themselves at the instiga 
tion of the zealous Lutheran, Sebastian von Kotteritz. At 
Altenburg also, doubtless through Luther s doing, his friend 
Wenceslaus Link, the preacher in that town, made a some 
what similar attempt to establish a communal poor-box. In 

1 /&., 19, p. 654f.=22, p. 281 in "Ob Kriegsleutte auch ynn 
seligen Stande seyn kxinden." 

2 Barge, " Andreas Karlstadt," 2, p. 559 f. 

3 E. Sehling, " Die evang. Kirchenordnungen des 16. Jahrh.," 1, 1. 
p. 696 ff. 

VI. E 


many other places efforts of a like nature were made under 
Lutheran auspices. 

How far such undertakings spread throughout the Protes 
tant congregations cannot be accurately determined. We 
know, however, the details of the scheme owing to our still 
having the rules drawn up for Leisnig. 1 

According to this the whole congregation, town-councillors, 
aldermen, elders and all the inhabitants generally, were to bind 
themselves to make a good use of their Christian freedom by the 
faithful keeping of the Word of God and by submitting to good 
discipline and just penalties. Ten coffer-masters were to be 
appointed over the " common fund " and these were three times 
a year to give an account to the " whole assembly thereto con 
vened." Into this fund was to be put not merely the revenue of 
the earlier institutions which hitherto had been most active in 
the relief of the poor, viz. the brotherhoods and benevolent 
associations, as also that of most of the guilds, and, moreover, the 
whole income drawn by the parish from the glebes, pious founda 
tions, tithes, voluntary offerings, fines, bridge dues and private 
industrial concerns. Thus it was not merely a relief fund but 
practically a trust comprising all the wealth of the congregation, 
which chiefly consisted in the extensive Church property it had 
annexed. In keeping with this is the manner in which the income 
was to be apportioned. Only a part was devoted to the relief of 
the poor, i.e. to the hospital, orphanage and guest-houses. Most 
of the money was to go to defray the stipend of the Lutheran 
pastor and his clerk, to maintain the schools and the church, and 
to allow of advances being made to artisans free of interest ; the 
rest was to be put by for times of scarcity. The members of the 
congregation were also exhorted to make contributions out of 
charity to their neighbour. 

The scheme pleased Luther so well that he advised the printing 
of the rules, and himself wrote a preface to the published text in 
which he said, he hoped that " the example thus set would prove 
a success, be generally followed, and lead to a great ruin of the 
earlier foundations, monasteries, chapels and all other such 
abominations which hitherto had absorbed all the world s wealth 
under a show of worship." 

Hence here once more his chief motive is a polemical one, viz. 
his desire to injure Popery. 

He invites the authorities on this occasion to " lay hands on " 
such property and to apply to the common fund all that remained 
over after the obligations attaching to the property had been 
complied with, and restitution made to such heirs of the donors 
as demanded it on account of their poverty. In giving this advice 
he was anxious, as he says, to disclaim any responsibility in the 
event of " such property as had fallen vacant being plundered 

1 Ib., p. 596 ff. ; also " Luthers Werke," Weim. ed., 12, p. 11 ff. ; 
Erl. ed., 22, p. 112 ft . On Leisnig cp. above, vol. v., p. 136 ff. 


owing to the estates changing hands and each one laying hold on 
whatever he could seize." " Should avarice find an entry what 
then can be done ? It must not indeed be given up in despair. It 
is better that avarice should take too much in a legal way than 
that there should be such plundering as occurred in Bohemia. Let 
each one [i.e. of the heirs of the donors] examine his own conscience 
and see what he ought to take for his own needs and what he 
should leave for the common fund ! " 1 

The setting up of such a " common fund " was also suggested in 
other Lutheran towns as a means of introducing some sort of 
order into the confiscation of the Church s property. The direct 
object of the funds was not the relief of the poor. This was merely 
included as a measure for palliating and justifying the bold stroke 
which the innovators were about to take in secularising the whole 
of the Church s vast properties. 

This, however, makes some of Luther s admonitions in his 
preface to the regulations for the Leisnig common fund sound 
somewhat strange, for instance, his injunction that everything be 
carried out according to the law of love. " Christian charity must 
here act and decide ; laws and enactments cannot settle the 
difficulties. Indeed I write this counsel only out of Christian 
charity for the Christians." Whoever refuses to accept his 
advice, he says at the conclusion, may go his own way ; only a 
few would accept it, but one or two were quite enough for him. 
" The world must remain the world and Satan its Prince. I have 
done what I could and what it was my duty to do." He was half 
conscious of the unpractical character of his proposals, yet any 
failure he was determined to attribute to the devil s doing. 

His premonition of failure was only too soon realised at 
Leisnig. The new scheme could not be made to work. The 
magistrates refused to resign the rights they claimed of 
disposing of the foundations and similar charitable sources of 
revenue or to hand over the incomings to the coffer-masters, 
for the latter, they argued, were representatives, not of the 
congregation but of the Church. Hence the fund had to go 
begging. Luther came to words with the town-council, but 
was unable to have his own way, even though he appealed 
to the Elector. 2 He lamented in 1524 that the example of 
Leisnig had been a very sad one, though, as the first of its 
kind, 3 it should have served as a model. Of Tileman 
Schnabel, an ex-Augustinian and college friend of Luther s 
at Erfurt, who had been working at Leisnig as preacher and 
" deacon," Luther wrote, that he would soon find himself 

1 Ib., pp. llff., 14=106ff., 110. 

2 Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 551. 

3 It was the first to be established with so much pomp and circum 


obliged to leave if he did not wish to die of hunger. " Inci 
dents such as these deprive the parsonages of their best 
managers. Maybe they want to drive them back to their 
old monasteries." 1 

Thus the parochial fund of Leisnig, which some writers 
have extolled so highly, really never came into existence. 
It lives only in the directions given by Luther. 

So ill were parson and schoolmaster cared for at Leisnig, 
in spite of all the Church property that had been sequestered, 
that, according to the Visitation of 1529, the preacher there 
had been obliged to ply a trade and gain a living by selling 
beer. In 1534, so the records of the Visitations of that date 
declare, the schoolmaster had for five years been paid no 

Link, the Altenburg preacher, was also unsuccessful in his 
efforts to carry out a similar scheme. He complained as 
early as 1523, in a writing entitled " Von Arbeyt und 
Betteln," that this Christian undertaking had so far " not 
only not been furthered but had actually gone backward " 
in spite of all his efforts from the pulpit. He, too, addresses 
himself to the " rulers " and reminds them that it is their 
duty " to the best of their ability to provide for the poverty 
of the masses." 2 

To Luther s bitter grief and disappointment Wittenberg 
(see above, p. 49) also furnished anything but an encouraging 
example. Here the incentive to the introduction of the 
common fund by Carlstadt had been the resolve of the town 
council " to seize on the revenues of the Church, the brother 
hoods and guilds and divert them into the common fund, to 
be employed for general purposes, and for paying the Church 
officials. ... No less than twenty-one pious guilds were to 
be mulcted." 3 Yet the Wittenberg measures were so little a 
success, in spite of all Luther s efforts, that in his sermons 
he could not sufficiently deplore the absence of charity and 
prevalence of avarice and greed amongst both burghers and 

1 To Spalatin, Nov. 24, 1524, " Brief wechsel," 5, p. 72 f. 

2 Cp. Ehrle, " Die Armenordnungen," etc. (" Hist. Jahrb.," 9, 
1888), p. 475. The Altenburg regulations are no longer extant. 

3 Feuchtwanger, " Jahrb. f. Gesetzgebung," etc., I., p. 173. He 
quotes the enthusiastic words written on this occasion by the Witten 
berg student Ulscenius : " O factum apostolicum, fervet hodie in 
Wittenbergensium cordibus Dei et proximi dilectio ardentissima" etc., 
and remarks : We may take in conjunction with this statement the 
libertinism which actually prevailed in the town at the end of 1521. 


councillors. 1 The Beutelordnung continued indeed in 
existence, but merely as an administrative department of 
the town council. 

It is not surprising therefore that Luther gave up for the 
while any attempt at putting into practice the Leisnig 
project elsewhere ; his scheme for assembling the true 
Christians into a community had also perforce to betake 
itself unto the land of dreams. Only in his " Deudsche 
Messe " of 1526 does the old idea again force itself to the 
front : " Here a general collection for the poor might be 
made among the congregation ; it should be given willingly 
and distributed amongst the needy after the example of 
St. Paul, 2 Cor. ix. . . . If only we had people earnestly 
desirous of being Christians, the manner and order would 
soon be settled. 5 2 

Subsequent to 1526, however, Bugenhagen drafted better 
regulations and poor laws for Wittenberg and other Protes 
tant towns, founded this time on a more practical basis. 
(See below, p. 57 f.) 

Luther, nevertheless, continued to complain of the 
Wittenbergers. The indignation he expresses at the lack 
of all charitable endeavours throughout the domain of the 
new Evangel serves as a suitable background for these 

Want of charity and of neighbourly love was the primary 
and most important cause of the failure of Luther s efforts. 

" Formerly, when people served the devil and outraged the 
Blood of Christ," he says in 1530 in " Das man die Kinder zur 
Schulen halten solle " (see above, p. 6), " all purses were 
open and there was no end to the giving, for churches, schools 
and every kind of abomination ; but now that it is a question 
of founding true schools and churches every purse is closed 
with iron chains and no one is able to give." So pitiful a sight 
made him beg of God a happy death so that he might not live to 
see Germany s punishment : " Did my conscience allow of it I 
would even give my help and advice so as to bring back the Pope 
with all his abominations to rule over us once more." 3 

What leads him to such admissions as, that, the Christians, 
" under the plea of freedom are now seven times worse than 
they were under the Pope s tyranny," is, in the first place, 

1 Cp. below. 

2 Weim. ed., 19, p. 74 ff. ; Erl. ed., 22, p. 231. 

3 Ib., 30, 2, p. 584 f.= 17 2 , p. 419 f. 


his bitter experience of the drying up of charity, which now 
ceases to care even for the parsonages and churches. Under the 
Papacy people had been eager to build churches and to make 
offerings to be distributed in alms among the poor, but, now that 
the true religion is taught, it is a wonder how everyone has grown 
so cold. Yet the people were told and admonished that it 
was well pleasing to God and all the angels, but even so they 
would not respond. Now a pastor could not even get a hole in 
his roof mended to enable him to lie dry, whereas in former days 
people could erect churches and monasteries regardless of cost. 
" Now there is not a single town ready to support a preacher and 
there is nothing but robbery and pilfering amongst the people 
and no one hinders them. Whence comes this shameful plague ? 
From the doctrine, say the bawlers, which you teach, viz. that 
we must not reckon on works or place our trust in them. This is, 
however, the work of the tiresome devil who falsely attributes 
such things to the pure and wholesome teaching," etc. 1 

He is so far from laying the blame on his teaching that he 
exclaims : What would our forefathers, who were noted for their 
charity, not have done " had they had the light of the Evangel 
which is now given to us " ? Again and again he comes back to 
the contrast between his and older times : " Our parents and 
forefathers put us to shame for they gave so generously and 
charitably, nay even to excess, to the churches, parsonages and 
schools, foundations, hospitals," etc. 2 "Indeed had we not 
already the means, thanks to the charitable alms and foundations 
of our forefathers, the Gospel itself would long since have been 
wiped out by the burghers in the towns, and the nobles and 
peasants in the country, so that not one poor preacher would have- 
enough to eat and drink ; for we refuse to supply them, arid, 
instead, rob and lay violent hands on what others have given and 
founded for the purpose." 3 

To sum up briefly other characteristic complaints which belong 
here, he says : Now that in accordance with the true Evangel 
we are admonished " to give without seeking for honour or merit, 
no one can spare a farthing." 4 No one now will give, and, 
" unless we had the lands we stole from the Pope, the preachers 
would have but scant fare " ; they even try " to snatch the 
morsels out of the parson s mouth." The way in which the 
" nobles and officials " now treat what was formerly Church 
property amounts to " a devouring of all beggars, strangers and 
poor widows ; we may indeed bewail this, for they eat up the 
very marrow of the bones. Since they raise a hue and cry against 

the Papists let them also not forget us Woe to you 

peasants, burghers and nobles who grab everything, hoard and 
scrape, and pretend all the time to be good Evangelicals." 5 

1 See Dollinger, " Die Ref.," 1, p. 303 ff. 

2 Erl. ed., 14 2 , p. 391. Church Postils. 3 /&., p. 389. 

4 Weim. ed., 32, p. 409 ; Erl. ed., 43, p. 164. Expos, of Mat. vi. 
6 Ib., Erl. ed., 44, p. 356. Sermons on Mat. xviii.-xxiii. For 
similar statements see the passage in the last Note and Erl. ed., 23, 


He is only too well acquainted with the evils of mendicancy and 
idleness, and knows that they have not diminished but rather 
increased. Even towards the end of his life he alludes to the 
"innumerable wicked rogues who pretend to be poor, needy 
beggars and deceive the people " ; they deserve the gallows as 
much as the " idlers," of whom there are " even many more " than 
before, who are well able to work, take service and support them 
selves, but prefer to ask for alms, and, " when these are not esteemed 
enough, to supplement them by pilfering or even by open, bare 
faced stealing in the courtyards, the streets and in the very 
houses, so that I do not know whether there has ever been a time 
when robbery and thieving were so common." 1 

Finally he recalls the enactments against begging by 
which the " authorities forbade foreign beggars and vaga 
bonds and also idlers." This brings us back to the attempts 
made, with the consent of the authorities in the Lutheran 
districts, to obviate the social evils by means similar to those 
adopted at Leisnig. 

A Second Stumbling Block : Lack of Organisation 

It was not merely lack of charity that rendered nugatory 
all attempts to put in force regulations such as those drafted 
for Leisnig, but also defects in the inner organisation of the 
schemes. First, to lump all sorts of monies intended for 
different purposes into a single fund could prove nothing but 
a source of confusion and diminish the amount to be devoted 
directly to charitable purposes ; this, too, was the effect of 
keeping no separate account of the expenditure for the relief 
of the poor. 

Then, again, the intermingling of secular and spiritual 
which the arrangement involved was very unsatisfactory. 
We can trace here more clearly than elsewhere the quasi- 
mystic idea of the congregation of true believers which 
retained so strong a hold on Luther s imagination till about 
1525. With singular ignorance of the ways of the world he 
wished to set up the common fund on a community based 
on faith and charity in which the universal priesthood was 
supposed to have abolished all distinction between the 
spiritual and secular authorities, nay, between the two very 

S. 317 ; also above, vol. iv., passim. Cp. also Luther s statements 
i Janssen, " Hist, of the German People," xv., p. 465 ff. ; Dollinger, 
" Die Ref.," 2, p. 215, 306, 349. 

1 Erl. ed., 23, 313 f. " An die Pfarherrn wider den Wucher." 1539. 


spheres themselves. He took for granted that Evangelical 
rulers would be altogether spiritual simply because they 
possessed the faith ; faith, so he seemed to believe, would of 
itself do everything in the members of the congregation ; 
under the guidance of the spirit everything would be " held 
in common, after the example of the Apostles," as he says 
in the preface of the Leisnig regulations. But what was 
possible of accomplishment owing to abundance of grace in 
Apostolic times was an impossible dream in the 16th century. 
" The old ideal of an ecclesiastical commonwealth on which, 
according to the preface, Luther wished to construct a kind 
of insurance society for the relief of the poor, could not 
subsist for a moment in the keen atmosphere of a workaday 
world where men are what they are." 1 

Hence the latest writer on social politics and the poor law, 
from whom the above words are taken, openly expresses his 
wonder at the " Utopian, religio-communistic foundation on 
which the Wittenberg and Leisnig schemes, and those drawn 
up on similar lines, were based," at the " Utopian efforts " 
with their " absurd system of expenditure," which, owing to 
their " fundamental defects and the mixing of the funds, 
were doomed sooner or later to fail." This " travesty of 
early Christianity " tended neither to promote the moral 
and charitable sense of the people nor to further benevolent 
organisation. " Any rational policy of poor law " was, on 
the contrary, shut out by these early Lutheran institutions ; 
the relief of the poor was thereby placed on an * eminently 
unstable basis " ; the poor-boxes only served " to encourage 
idleness." " Not in such a way could the modern poor-law 
system, based as it is on impersonal, legal principles, be 
called into being." 

" No system of poor law has ever had less claim to be 
placed at the head of a new development than this one [of 
Leisnig]." 2 

The years 1525 and 1526 brought the turning point in 
Luther s attitude towards the question of poor relief, 
particularly owing to the effect of the Peasant War on his 
views of society and the Church. 

The result of the war was to bring the new religious 
system into much closer touch with the sovereigns and 

1 Feuchtwanger, II. (see above, p. 44, n. 2), p. 192. 

2 Ib., pp. 197, 180, 177 f., 176. 


" thus practically to give rise to a theocracy." 1 In spite of 
the changes this produced, Luther s schemes for providing 
for the poor continued to display some notable defects. 

For all " practical purposes Luther threw over the principle of 
the universal priesthood which the peasants had embraced as a 
socio-political maxim, and, by a determined effort, cut his cause 
adrift from the social efforts of the day. ... He worked himself 
up into a real hatred of the mob, of Master Omnes, the many- 
headed monster, and indeed came within an ace of the socio 
political ideas of Machiavelli, who advised the rulers to treat the 
people so harshly that they might look upon those lords as 
liberal who were not extortionate." After the abrogation of 
episcopal authority and canon law, of hierarchy and monasteries 
" there came an urgent call for the establishment of new associa 
tions with practical aims and for the construction of the skeleton 
of the new Christian community ; we now hear no more of that 
ideal community of true believers which, thanks to its heartfelt 
faith, was to carry on the social work of preventing and alleviating 

The whole of the outward life of the Church being now 
under the direction of the Protestant sovereign, the system 
of poor relief began to assume a purely secular character, 
having nothing but an outward semblance of religion. The 
new regulations were largely the work of Bugenhagen, who 
was a better organiser than Luther. The many enactments 
he was instrumental in drafting for the North German towns 
embody necessary provisions for the relief of the poor. 

Officials appointed by the sovereign or town-council 
directed, or at least supervised, the management, while the 
" deacons," i.e. the ecclesiastical guardians of the fund, were 
obliged to find the necessary money and, generally, to bear 
all the odium for the meagreness and backwardness of the 
distribution. The members of the congregation had practi 
cally no longer any say in the matter. The parish s share 
in the relief of the poor was made an end of even before it 
had lost the other similar rights assigned to it by Luther, 
such as that of promulgating measures of discipline, appoint 
ing clergy, administering the Church s lands, etc. Just as 
the organisation of the Church was solely in the hands of 
the authorities to the complete exclusion of the congrega 
tions, so poor relief and the ecclesiastical regulations on 
which it was based became merely a government concern. 

1 The quotations here and in what follows are from Feucbtwanger. 


What Bugenhagen achieved, thanks to the ecclesiastical 
regulations for poor relief, for which he was directly or 
indirectly responsible, gave " good hopes, at least at first, of 
bringing the difficult social problem of those days nearer to 
a solution." At any rate they were a " successful attempt 
to bring some order into the whole system of relief, by means 
of the authorities and on a scale not hitherto attempted by 
the Church." 1 It is true that he, like those who were 
working on the same lines, e.g. Hedio, Rhegius, Hyperius, 
Lasco and others, often merely transplanted into a new soil 
the rules already in vogue in the Catholic Netherlands and 
the prosperous South German towns. Hedio of Strasburg, 
for instance, translated into German the entire work of 
Vives, the opponent of Lutheranism, and exploited it 
practically and also sought to enter into epistolary com 
munication with Vives. The prohibition of mendicancy, the 
establishment of an independent poor-box apart from the 
rest of the Church funds, and many other points were 
borrowed by Bugenhagen and others from the olden 
Catholic regulations. 

Such efforts were in many localities supplemented by the 
kindliness of the population and, thanks to a spirit of 
Christianity, were not without fruit. 

As, however, everybody, Princes, nobles, townships and 
peasants, were stretching out greedy hands towards the now 
defenceless possessions of the olden Church, a certain 
reaction came, and the State, in the interests of order, saw 
fit to grant a somewhat larger share to the ecclesiastical 
authorities in the administration of Church property and 
relief funds. The Lutheran clergy and the guardians of the 
poor were thus allowed a certain measure of free action, 
provided always that what they did was done in the name 
of the sovereign, i.e. the principal bishop. The new institu 
tions created by such men as Bugenhagen soon lost their 
public, communal or State character, and sank back to 
the level of ecclesiastical enterprises. Institutions of this 
stamp had, however, " been more numerous and better en- 

1 Feuchtwanger, II., p. 197. He quotes from the compilation of 
A. L. Richter, " Die evang. Kirchenordnungen des 16. Jahrh.," and 
Sehling (above, p. 49, n. 3) Bugenhagen s " Ordnungen " subsequent to 
those set up for Wittenberg in 1527. Cp. in K. A. Vogt, " Bugen 
hagen," 1367, p. 101 ff., on he latter s " Von den Christen-loven," 
etc., 1526, \ 


dowed in the Middle Ages and were so later in the Catholic 

Owing in part to a technical defect in the Protestant 
regulations, dishonesty and carelessness were not excluded 
from the management and distribution of the poor fund, the 
administration falling, as a matter of course, into the hands 
of the lowest class of officials. Catholics had good reason for 
branding it as a " usury and parson s box." 1 The reason 
why, in Germany, Protestant efforts for poor relief never 
issued in a satisfactory socio-political system capable of 
relieving the poor and thus improving the condition of both 
Church and State, lay, not merely in the economic difficulties 
of the time, but, " what is more important, in the social and 
moral working of the new religion and new piety which 
Luther had established." 2 

Influence of Luther s Ethics. Robbery of Church Property 
Proves a Curse 

Not only had the Peasant Rising and the reprisals taken 
by the rulers and the towns brought misery on the land and 
hardened the hearts of the princes and magistrates, not only 
had the means available for the relief of the poor been 
diminished, first by the founding of new parishes in place of 
the old ones, which had in many cases been supported by 
the monasteries and foundations, secondly, by the demands 
of Protestants for the restitution of many ecclesiastical 
benefices given by their Catholic forefathers, thirdly, by 
the drying up of the spring of gifts and donations, but 
" the common fund, which had been swelled by the shekels 
of the Church, had now to bear many new burdens and 
only what remained which often enough was not much 
was employed for charitable purposes." In the same 
way, and to an even greater extent, must the Lutheran 
ethics be taken into account. Luther s views on justification 
by faith alone destroyed " that impulse of the Middle Ages 
towards open-handed charity." This was " an ethical 
defect of the Lutheran doctrine " ; it was only owing to his 
" utter ignorance of the world " that Luther persisted in 
believing that faith would, of itself and without any " law," 

1 Cp. Janssen, xv., p. 456 f. 

2 Feuchtwanger, ib., II., p. 206. 


beget good works and charity. 1 " It was a cause of wonder 
and anxiety to him throughout his life that his assumption, 
that faith would be the best taskmaster and the strongest 
incentive to good works and kindliness, never seemed to be 
realised. . . . The most notable result of Luther s doctrine 
of grace and denial of all human merit was, at least among 
the masses, an increase of libertinism and of the spirit of 
irresponsibility." 2 

The dire effects of the new principles were also evident 
in the large and wealthy towns, the exemplary poor-law 
regulations of which we have considered above. After the 
innovations had made their way among them we hear little 
more of provisions being made against mendicancy, for the 
promotion of work and for the relief of poverty. Hence, 
as regards these corporations . . . the change of religion 
meant, according to Feuchtwanger, " a decline in the quality 
of their social philanthropy." (Cp. above, vol. iv., p. 477 ff.) 

From some districts, however, we have better reports of 
the results achieved by the relief funds. In times of worst 
distress good Christians were always ready to help. Much 
depended on the spirit of those concerned in the work. In 
general, however, the complaints of the preachers of the 
new faith, including Melanchthon, wax louder and louder. 3 
They tell us that the patrimony of the poor was being 
carried off by the rapacity of the great or disappearing under 
the hands of avaricious and careless administrators, whilst 
new voluntary contributions were no longer forthcoming. 
We find no lack of those, who, like Luther s friend Paul Eber, 
are given to noting the visible, palpable consequences of 
the wrong done to the monasteries, brotherhoods and 
churches. 4 

1 Cp. ib., p. 214. 2 Ib., p. 212. 

3 In his instruction against the Anabaptist doctrines (Wittenberg, 
1528, D 3b) Melanchthon says : " Never have the people shown 
themselves more unfriendly and malicious towards the parsons and 
ministers of the Church than now. Some who wish to be thought very 
Evangelical seize upon the property given to the parsons, pulpits, 
schools and churches, and without which we should end by becoming 
heathen. The common people and the mob refuse to pay the parson 
his dues," etc. 

4 See Janssen, ib., xv., p. 480, n. 1, where the touching complaint 
of Eber s is quoted, viz. that the ministers of the Church were stripped 
and left to starve. He prophesies that future times will show how 
" little blessing spoliation brought those who warmed and fed them 
selves on Church property." It was everywhere worst in the villages 
and small towns. 


A long list of statements from respected Protestant contem 
poraries is given by Janssen, who concludes : " The whole 
system of poor relief was grievously affected by the seizure and 
squandering of Church goods and of innumerable charitable 
bequests intended not only for parochial and Church use but also 
for the hospitals, schools and poor-houses." 1 The testimonies in 
question, the frankness of which can only be explained by the 
honourable desire to make an end of the crying evil, come, for 
instance, from Thomas Rorarius, Andreas Musculus, Johann 
Winistede, Erasmus Sarcerius, Ambrose Pape and the General 
Superintendent, Cunemann Flinsbach. 2 They tend to show that 
the new doctrine of faith alone had dried up the well-spring of 
self-sacrifice, as indeed Andreas Hyperius, the Marburg theo 
logian, Christopher Fischer, the General Superintendent, Daniel 
Greser, the Superintendent, Sixtus Vischer and others state in 
so many words. 

The incredible squandering of Church property is proved by 
official papers, was pilloried by the professors of the University 
of Rostock, also is clear from the minutes of the Visitations of 
Wesenberg in 1568 and of the Palatinate iu-^556 which bewail 
" the sin against the property set aside for God and His Church." 3 
And again, " The present owners have dealt with the Church 
property a thousand times worse than the Papists," they make 
no conscience of " selling it, mortgaging it and giving it away." 
Princes belonging to the new faith also raised their voice in 
protest, for instance, Duke Barnim XI in 1540, Elector Joachim II 
of Brandenburg in 1540 and Elector Johann George, 1573. But 
the sovereigns were unable to restrain their rapacious nobles. 
" The great Lords," the preacher Erasmus Sarcerius wrote of the 
Mansfeld district in 1555, " seek to appropriate to themselves 
the feudal rights and dues of the clergy and allow their officials 
and justices to take forcible action. . . . The revenues of the 
Church are spent in making roads and bridges and giving 
banquets, and are lent from hand to hand without hypothecary 
security." 4 The Calvinist, Anton Prsetorius, and many others 
not to mention Catholic contemporaries, speak in similar terms. 

Of the falling off in the Church funds and poor-boxes in the 
16th century in Hesse, in the Saxon Electorate, in Frankfurt-on- 
the-Main, in Hamburg and elsewhere abundant proof is met with 
in the official records, and this is the case even with regard to 
Wurtemberg in the enactments of the Dukes from 1552 to 1562, 
though that country constituted in some respects an exception ; 5 
at a later date Duke Johann Frederick hazarded the opinion that 
the regulations regarding the fund " had fallen into oblivion." 

The growth of the proletariate, to remedy the impoverishment 
of which no means had as yet been discovered, was in no small 
measure promoted by Luther s facilitation of marriage. 

1 Ib., xv., p. 477. 2 Ib., p. 469 ff. 

3 Ib,, p. 481 ft . 4 For proofs see Janssen, ib. 

5 G. Kawerau, " Lehrb. der KG.," 3, ed. W. Moller, 3rd ed., 1907, 
p. 434, with a reference to the works of Bossert. 


Luther himself had written, that " a boy ought to have recourse 
to matrimony as soon as he is twenty and a maid when she is 
from fifteen to eighteen years of age, and leave it to God to 
provide for their maintenance and that of their children." 1 
Other adherents of the new faith went even further, Eberlin of 
Giinsburg simply declared : "As soon as a girl is fifteen, a boy 
eighteen, they should be given to each other in marriage." There 
were others like the author of a " Predigt iiber Hunger- und 
Sterbejahre, von einem Diener am Wort " (1571), who raised 
strong objections against such a course. Dealing with the causes 
of the evident increase of " deterioration and ruin " in " lands, 
towns and villages," he says, that " a by no means slight cause 
is the countless number of lightly contracted marriages, when 
people come together and beget children without knowing where 
they will get food for them, and so come down themselves in body 
and soul, and bring up their children to begging from their 
earliest years." " And I cannot here approve of this sort of thing 
that Luther has written : A lad should marry when he is twenty, 
etc. [see above]. No, people should not think of marrying and 
the magistrates should not allow them to do so before they are 
sure of being able at least to provide their families with the 
necessaries of life, for else, as experience shows, a miserable, 
degenerate race is produced." 2 

What this old writer says is borne out by modern sociologists. 
One of them, dealing with the 16th and 17th centuries, says : 
" These demands [of Luther and Eberlin] are obviously not 
practicable from the economic point of view, but from the ethical 
standpoint also they seem to us extremely doubtful. To rush 
into marriage without prospect of sufficient maintenance is not 
trusting God but tempting Him. Such marriages are extremely 
immoral actions and they deserve legal punishment on account 
of their danger to the community." " Greater evil to the world 
can scarcely be caused in any way than by such marriages. Even 
in the most favourable cases such early marriages must have a 
deteriorating influence on the physical and intellectual culture of 
posterity." 3 

Owing to the neglect of any proper care for the poor the plague 
of vagabondage continued on the increase. Luther s zealous 
contemporary, Cyriacus Spangenberg, sought to counteract it by 
reprinting the Master s edition of the " Liber vagatorum." He says : 
" False begging and trickery has so gained the upper hand that 
scarcely anybody is safe from imposture." The Superintendent, 
Nicholas Selnecker, again republished the writing with Luther s 
preface in 1580, together with some lamentations of his own. He 

1 Weim. ed., 10, 2, p. 303 f. ; Erl. ed., 16 2 , p. 541 (in 1522). 

2 Cp. Janssen, ib., xv., p. 501. 

3 O. Jolles, " Die Ansichten der deutschen nationaltfkonomischen 
Schriftsteller des 1C. und 17. Jahrh. iiber Bevolkerungswesen" 
("Jahrb. f. Nationalftkonomie u. Statistik," N.F. 13, 1886, p. 196). 
Janssen, ib. 


complains that " there are too many tramps and itinerant 
scholars who give themselves up to nothing but knavery," etc. 1 

Adolf Harnack is only re-echoing the complaints of 16th 
century Protestants when he writes : " We may say briefly 
that, alas, nothing of importance was achieved, nay, we 
must go further : the Catholics are quite right when they 
assert that they, not we, lived to see a revival of charitable 
work in the 16th century, and, that, where Lutheranism 
was on the ascendant, social care of the poor was soon 
reduced to a worse plight than ever before." 2 The revival 
in Catholic countries to which Harnack refers showed itself 
particularly in the 17th century in the activity of the new 
Orders, whereas at this time the retrograde movement was 
still in progress in the opposite camp. " For a long time the 
Protestant relief system produced only insignificant results." 
It was not till the rise of Pietism and Rationalism, i.e. until 
the inauguration of the admirable Home Missions, that 
things began to improve. But Pietism and Rationalism are 
both far removed from the original Lutheran orthodoxy." 3 

Some Recent Excuses 

It has been remarked in excuse of Luther and his want of 
success, that, " with merit and the hope of any reward, 
there also vanished the stimulus to strive after the attain 
ment of salvation by means of works," and that this being so, 
it was " not surprising " that charity the selfless fruit of 
faith was wanting in many ; " for new, albeit higher moral 
motives, cannot at once come into play with the same 
facility as the older ones which they displace ; there comes 
a time when the old motives have gone and when the new 
ones are operative only in the case of a few ; the leaven at 
first only works gradually." The history of the spread of 
" the higher motives of morality " not only at the outset 
of Christianity but at all times, shows, however, as a rule 
these to be most active under the Inspiration of the Divine 

1 Janssen, ib., xv., p. 505. Feuchtwanger must have been familiar 
with all this though he never quotes Janssen. He says (p. 214) : " Only 
one who was unfavourable to the reformation would judge Protestant 
ism by the fruits of its first two centuries." 

2 " Reden und Aufsatze," 2, 1904, p. 52, in the lecture " Die evan- 
gelisch-soziale Aufgabe im Lichte der Gesch. der Kirche." 

3 F. Schaub, " Die kath. Caritas und ihre Gegner," 1909, p. 45. 


Spirit at the time when first accepted. Nor does the com 
parison with the leaven in the passage quoted apply to a 
state of decline and decay, where, for a change to be effected, 
outside and entirely different elements were needed. We 
are told that the new motives could not at once take effect, 
but, where the delay extends over quite a century and a half, 
the blame surely cannot be laid on the shortness of the time 
of probation. 

Again, when we hear great stress laid on the fact that 
Luther at least paved the way for State relief of the poor 
and, thus, far outstrode the mediaeval Church, one is 
justified in asking, whether in reality State relief of the 
poor, with compulsory taxation, non-intervention of Chris 
tian charity, or individual effort, or without any morally 
elevating influence, is something altogether ideal ; whether, 
on the other hand, voluntary charity, as practised par 
ticularly by associations, Orders or ecclesiastics, does not 
deserve a much higher place and take precedence of, or at 
least stand side by side with, the forced " charity " of the 
State. Even to-day Protestantism is seeking to reserve a 
place for voluntary charitable effort. Considerations as to 
the value of mere State charity would, however, carry us too 
far. We must refer this matter to experts. 1 

That, before Luther s day, the authorities took a reason 
able and even larger share in the relief of the poor than he 
himself demanded, is evident from what has been said 
above (p. 43 ff.). 

As a matter of fact, judging by what has gone before, the 
assertion that the system of State relief of the poor was 
originated by Luther or by Protestantism calls for con 
siderable " revision." " The reformation," so the socio 
logical authority we have so frequently quoted says, 
" created neither the communal nor the governmental 

1 See the excellent work by Sehaub, p. 14 ff., quoted in the previous 
Note, where it is stated, that, under present conditions, private charity 
certainly does not suffice and that, therefore, State relief is necessary ; 
yet the latter is always merely subsidiary, because what is assumed by 
real Christian charity, i.e. self-sacrifice, and individual care, can only 
be realised in private relief of the poor ; the State, on the other hand, 
has its efficient compulsory taxation (" caritas coacta ") and its own 
bureaucratic means of carrying out its work ; in any case the State 
must not monopolise any branch of poor relief, and public and private 
charity ought to be in close touch. These remarks may serve to assist 
in the right appreciation of the historical movement described above. 


system of poor relief." 1 This he finds borne out by the 
different schemes for the relief of the poor contained in the 
old ecclesiastical constitutions. It is true, he says, that, 
" according to the idea in vogue, the origin of our present 
Poor Law " can be traced back directly " to the Reformation. 
Nevertheless, the changes that took place in the social care 
of the poor subsequent to Luther s day, though certainly 
44 far-reaching enough," were " exclusively negative " ; 2 
owing to his exertions the Church property and that set 
aside for the relief of the poor was secularised, and the 
previous free-handed method of distribution ceased ; all 
further growth of legislation on the subject in the prosperous 
and independent townships was effectually hindered ; out 
of the mass of property that passed into alien hands only 
a few scraps could be spared by the secular rulers and 
handed over to the ministers for the benefit of the poor. 

This was no State-regulation of poor relief as we now 
understand it. Still, the way was paved for it in so far as 
the props of the olden ecclesiastical system of relief had 
been felled and had eventually to be replaced by something 
new. In this sense it may be said that Luther s work 
tc paved the way " for the new conditions. 3 

5. Luther s Attitude towards Worldly Callings 

An attempt has been made to prove the truth of the 
dictum so often met with on the lips of Protestants, viz. 
that " Luther was the creator of those views of the world 
and life on which both the State and our modern civilisation 
rest," by arguing, that, at least, he made an end of contempt 
for worldly callings and exalted the humbler as well as the 
higher spheres of life at the expense of the ecclesiastical and 
monastic. What Luther himself frequently states concern 
ing his discovery of the dignity of the secular callings has 
elsewhere been placed in its true light (and the unhistoric 
accounts of his admirers are all in last resort based on his). 
This was done in the most suitable place, viz. when dealing 
with " Luther and Lying," and with his spiteful caricature 
of the mediaeval Church. 4 Still, for the sake of completeness, 
the claims Luther makes in this respect, and some new 

1 Feuchtwanger, II., p. 194. 2 /&., pp. 212, 214. 

3 Cp. ib., p. 214. * Vol. iv., p. 127 ff. 

VI. F 


proofs in refutation of them, must be briefly called to mind 
in the present chapter. It is not unusual for his admirers to 
speak with a species of awe of Luther s achievements in this 
respect : 

" One of the most Momentous Achievements of the 
Reformation " 

The claims Luther makes in respect of his labours on 
behalf of the worldly callings are even greater than his 
admirers would lead one to suppose. His actual words 
reveal their hyperbolical character, or rather untruth, by 
their very extravagance. 

Luther we have heard say : " Such honour and glory have 
I by the grace of God, that, since the time of the Apostles no 
doctor . . . has confirmed and instructed the consciences 
of the secular estates so well and lucidly as I." 1 It was 
quite different with the " monks and priestlings " ! They 
" damned both the laity and their calling." These " revo 
lutionary blasphemers " condemned " all the states of life 
that God instituted and ordained " ; on the other hand, they 
extol their self -chosen and accursed state as though outside 
of it no one could be saved. 2 

The phantom of a Popish, monkish holiness-by-works 
never left him. In his Commentary on Genesis, though he 
holds that he has already taught the Papists more than they 
deserve on the right appreciation of the lower callings and 
labours, yet he once more informs them of his discovery, 
" that the work of the household and of the burgher," such 
as hospitality, the training of children, the supervision of 
servants, " despised though they be as common and worth 
less," are also well-pleasing to God. " Such things must be 
judged according to the Word [of God], not according to 
reason ! . . . Let us therefore thank God that we, en 
lightened by the Word, now perceive what are really good 
works, viz. obedience to those in authority, respect for 
parents, supervision of the servants and assistance of our 
brethren." " These are callings instituted by God." "When 
the mother of a family provides diligently for her family, 
looks after the children, feeds them, washes them and rocks 

1 Erl. ed., 31, p. 236. " Verantwortung der auffgelegten Auffrur," 
1533. Above, vol. v., p. 59. 
* Ib., p. 239 f . 


them in the cradle," this calling, followed for God s sake, is 
" a happy and a holy one." 1 

Luther is never tired of claiming as his peculiar teaching 
that even the most humble calling that of the maid or day- 
labourer may prove a high and exalted road to heaven and 
that every kind of work, however insignificant, performed 
in that position of life to which a man is called is of great 
value in God s sight when done in faith. He is fond of 
repeating, that a humble ploughman can lay up for himself 
as great a treasure in heaven by tilling his field, as the 
preacher or the schoolmaster, by their seemingly more 
exalted labours. 

There is no doubt, that, by means of this doctrine, which 
undoubtedly is not without foundation, he consoled many 
of the lower classes, and brought them to a sense of their 
dignity as Christians. It is true that it was his polemics 
against monasticism and the following of the counsels of 
perfection which led him to make so much of the ordinary 
states of life and to paint them in such glowing colours. 
Nevertheless, we must admit that he does so with real 
eloquence and by means of comparisons and figures taken 
from daily life which could not but lend attraction to the 
truth and which differ widely from the dry, scholastic tone 
of some of his Catholic predecessors in this field. 

He does not, however, really add a single fresh element 
to the olden teaching, or one that cannot be traced back to 
earlier times. 

Either Luther was not aware of this, or else he conceals it 
from his hearers and readers. It would have been possible 
to confront him with a whole string of writers, ancient and 
mediaeval, and even from the years when he himself began 
his work, whose writings teach the same truths, often, too, 
in language which leaves nothing more to be wished for on 
the score of impressiveness and feeling. 2 So many proofs, 
from reason as well as from revelation, had always been 
forthcoming in support of these truths that it is hard for us 
now to understand how the idea gained ground that Chris- 

1 " Opp. lat. exeg.," 4, pp. 202-204. 

2 Cp. N. Paulus, " Die Wertung der weltlichen Berufe im MA., * 
("Hist. Jahrb.," 1911, pp. 725-755). "Similar testimony," Paulus 
says, p. 740, " dating from the close of the Middle Ages is to be found 
in abundance." He lays particular stress on the witness of monks and 


tians had forgotten them. Those who, down to the present 
day, repeat Luther s assertions make too little account of 
this psychological riddle. 

Here we shall merely add to what has already been 
brought forward a few further proofs from Luther s own day. 

Andreas Proles (fl503), Vicar General of the Saxon Augustinian 
Congregation and founder of the reformed branch which Luther 
himself joined on entering the monastery, reminds the working 
classes in one of his sermons of the honour, the duty, and the worth 
of work. " Since man is born to labour as the bird to fly, he must 
work unceasingly and never be idle." He warmly exhorts the 
secular authorities to prayer, but reminds them still more 
emphatically of the requirements and the dignity of their calling : 
" The life of the mighty does not consist in parade but in ruling 
and discharging their duties towards their people." He praises 
voluntary chastity and clerical celibacy, but also points out 
powerfully that the married state " is for many reasons honour 
able and praiseworthy in the sight of God and all Christians." 1 

Gottschalk Hollen, the preacher of Westphalia, was also an 
Augustinian. In his sermons published at Hagenau in 1517 he 
displays the highest esteem for the worldly callings. Those 
classes who worked with their hands did not seem to him in the 
least contemptible, on the contrary the Christian could give 
glory to God even by the humblest work ; ordinary believers 
frequently allowed their calling to absorb them in worldly things, 
but these are not evil or blameworthy. In a special sermon on 
work he represents such cares as a means of attaining to ever 
lasting salvation. He insists everywhere on a man s performing 
the duties of his calling and will not allow of their being neglected 
for the sake of prayer or of out-of-the-way practices, such as 
pilgrimages. 2 

Just before Luther made his public appearance two German 
works of piety described the dignity and the honour of the work 
ing state and at the same time insisted on the obligation of 
labour. They speak of the secular callings as a source of moral 
and religious duty and the foundation of a happy life well pleasing 
to God. 

The " Wyhegertlin," printed at Mayence in 1509, says : " When 
work is done diligently and skilfully both God and man take 
pleasure in it, and it is a real good work when skilful artisans 
contribute to God s glory by their handicraft, by beautiful 

1 Sermon on Marriage in his " Sermones dominicales," Leipzig, 
1530, Bl. J. 4a, LI. Q 2b. Paulus, ib., p. 741. 

2 Of pilgrimages in particular, Luther is fond of saying, that the 
monks enjoined them at the expense of the duties of a man s calling. 
Cp., for instance, the passage cited above, p. 67, n. 1 (p. 203) : " Mater 
familias . . . non faciat, quce in papatu solent, ut discurrat ad templa," 
etc. For the passages from Hollen see Paulus, ib., p. 740, and Fl. Land- 
mann, " Das Predigtwesen in Westfalen in der letzten Zeit des MA.," 
1900, p. 179 f. 


buildings and images of every kind, and soften men s hearts so that 
they take pleasure in the beautiful, and regard every art and 
handicraft as a gift of God for the profit, comfort and edification 
of man." " For seeing that the Saints also worked and laboured, 
so shall the Christian learn from their example that by honourable 
labour he can glorify God, do good and, through God s mercy, save 
his own soul." 1 

In an " Ermanung " of 1513, which also appeared at Mayence, 
we read : "To work is to serve God according to His command 
and therefore all must work, the one with his hands, in the field, 
the house or the workshop, others by art and learning, others 
again as rulers of the people or other authorities, others by 
fighting in defence of their country, others again as ghostly 
ministers of Christ in the churches and monasteries. . . . Who 
ever stands idle is a despiser of God s commands." 2 

These instances must suffice. Though many others could be 
quoted, Protestants will, nevertheless, still be found to repeat 
such statements as the following : " Any appreciation of secular 
work as something really moral was impossible in the Catholic 
Church." " The Catholic view of the Church belittled the secular 
callings." " The ethical appreciation of one s calling is a signifi 
cant achievement of the reformation on which rests the present 
division of society." Luther it was who " discovered the true 
meaning of callings . . . which has since become the property 
of the civilised world." " The modern ethical conception of one s 
calling, which is common to all Protestant nations and which all 
others lack, was a creation of the reformation," etc. 

Others better acquainted with the Middle Ages have argued, 
that, though the olden theologians expressed themselves correctly 
on the importance of secular callings, yet theirs was not the view 
of the people. But the above passages, like those previously 
quoted elsewhere, do not hail from theologians quite ignorant of 
the world, but from sermons and popular writings. What they 
reflect is simply the popular ideas and practice. 

That errors were made is, of course, quite true. That, at a 
time when the Church stood over all, the excessive and ill- 
advised zeal of certain of the clergy and religious did occasionally 
lead them to belittle unduly the secular callings may readily be 
admitted ; what they did furnished some excuse for the Lutheran 

What above all moved Luther was, however, the fact that he 
himself had become a layman. 

To assert that even the very words " calling " or " vocation " 
in their modern sense were first coined by him is not in agreement 
with the facts of the case. 

On the contrary, Luther found the German equivalents already 
current, otherwise he would probably not have introduced them 
into his translation of the Bible, as he was so anxious to adapt 

1 Janssen, " Hist, of the German People " (Engl. Trans.), 2, p. 9 f. 
Paulus, ib., p. 749. 

2 Janssen, ib. Paulus, ib. y p. 748. 


himself to the language in common use amongst the people so as 
to be perfectly understood by them. x It is true that Ecclus xi. 22, 
in the pre-Lutheran Bible, e.g. that of Augsburg dating from 1487, 
was rendered : " Trust God and stay in thy place," whereas in 
Luther s and on this emphasis has been laid we read : " Trust 
in God and abide by thy calling." All that can be said is, how 
ever, that Luther s translation here brings out the same meaning 
rather better. That the word w r as not coined by Luther, but was 
common with the people, is clear from what Luther himself says 
incidentally when speaking of 1 Cor. vii. 20, where the word 
vocatio (K\i)<ris) is used of the call to faith. " And you must 
know," he writes, " that the word calling does not here mean 
the state to which a man is called, as when we say your calling is 
the married state, your calling is the clerical state, etc., each one 
having his calling from God. It is not of such a calling that the 
Apostle here speaks," etc. The expression " as we say " shows 
plainly that Luther is speaking of a quite familiar term which 
there was no need for him to invent when translating Ecclus. xi. 
22. Much less did he, either then or at any time, invent the 
" conception of a calling." 

Luther s Pessimism Regarding Various Callings. 
The Peasants 

When olden writers dealt with the relation between the 
Gospel and the worldly callings as a rule they pointed out 
with holy pride, that Christianity does not merely esteem 
every calling very highly but embraces them all with holy 
charity and cherishes and fosters the various states as sons 
of a common father. Nothing was so attractive in the great 
exponents of the Gospel teaching and renovators of the 
Christian people for instance in St. Francis of Assisi as 
their sympathy, respect and tenderness for every class 
without exception. The Church s great men knew how to 
discover the good in every class, to further it with the means 
at their disposal and indulgently to set it on its guard against 
its dangers. They wished to place everything lovingly at the 
service of the Creator. 

Had Luther in reality brought back to humanity the 
Gospel true and undented, as he was so fond of saying, then 
he should surely have striven, in the spirit of charity and 
good will, to make known its supernatural social forces to 
all classes of men, and to become, as the Apostle says, " All 
things to all men." 

1 Cp. Paulus, ib., p. 750 ff., and H. Pesch, " Lehrb. der National- 
dkonomie," 2, 1909, p. 726. 


Now, although Luther uses powerful words to describe 
the dignity of the different worldly callings, on the other 
hand, he tends at times to depreciate whole classes, this 
being especially the case when he allows his disappointment 
to get the better of him. Nor is the contempt openly 
expressed here counterbalanced by any sufficient recognition 
of the good, such as might have mollified his hearers and 
made them forget the ungracious abuse he thundered from 
his pulpit. 

He speaks bitterly of the common people, the proletariate of 
to-day, to which, according to him, belonged all the lower classes 
in the towns. Although himself of low extraction he displays 
very little sympathy for the people. " We must not pipe too 
much to the mob, for they are fond of raging. . . . They have no 
idea of self-restraint or how to exercise it, and each one s skin 
conceals five tyrants." 1 " A donkey must taste the stick and the 
mob must be ruled by force ; of this God was well aware, hence in 
the hands of the authorities He placed, not a fox s brush, but a 
sword." 2 

He only too frequently accuses the artisan and merchant class, 
as a whole, of cheating, avarice and laziness. At Wittenberg they 
may possibly have been exceptionally bad, yet he does not speak 
sufficiently of their less blameworthy side. 

For the soldiers, it is true, he has friendly words of apprecia 
tion of their calling ; it was for them that he wrote in 1526 a 
special work, where he replied in the affirmative to the question 
contained in the title : " Can even men-at-arms be in a state of 
grace ? " Yet even here he does not shrink from bringing forward 
charges against their calling : "A great part of the men-at-arms 
are the devil s own and some of them are actually crammed with 
devils. . . . They imagine themselves fire-eaters because they 
swear shamefully, perpetrate atrocities, and curse and defy the 
God of Heaven." 3 

Of the nobles he says in 1523, wishing to promote more 
frequent marriages between them and those of lower birth : 4 
" Must all princes and nobles who are born princes and nobles 
remain for ever such ? What harm is there if a prince takes a 
burgher s daughter to wife and contents himself with a burgher s 
modest dowry ? Or, why should not a noble maid give her hand 
to a burgher ? In the long run it will not do for the nobles always 
to intermarry with nobles. Although we are not all equal in the 
sight of the world yet before God we all are equal, all of us 
children of Adam, creatures of God, and one man as good as 

1 Weim. ed., 19, p. 635 ; Erl. ed., 22, p. 259. " Ob Kriegsleutte 
auch ynn seligen Stande seyn kunden ? " 1526. 

2 Ib., 18, p. 394= 24 2 , p. 324. " Sendebrieff von dem harten Buchlin 
widder die Bauren," 1525. 

3 Ib., 19, p. 659=22, p. 287. 

Ib., 10, 2, p. 157=28, p. 200. 


another." These words certainly do not express any lively con 
viction of the importance of the existing distinctions of rank for 

It is perfectly true, that, occasionally, Luther has words of 
praise and recognition for the good qualities of the " fine, pious 
nobles," if only on account of those who were inclined to accept 
his teaching. But far more often he trounces them unmerci 
fully because they either failed to respond or were set on thwarting 
him. The language in which he writes of them sometimes 
becomes unspeakably coarse. " They are called nobles and von 
so-and-so. But merd also comes von the nobles and might 
just as well boast of coming from their noble belly, though it 
stinks and is of no earthly use. Hence this too has a claim to 
nobility." Then follows his favourite saying : " We Germans are 
Germans and Germans we shall remain, i.e. swine and senseless 
brutes." 1 

The rulers and the great ones of the Empire were the first to 
win his favour. The writing " An den Adel," the first of his 
so-called " reformation writings," he addresses to the nobles in 
the hope of thus attaining his aims by storm. When, however, he 
was disappointed, and they refused to meet him half-way, he 
abused the princes and all the secular authorities in Germany and 
wrote : " God Almighty has made our princes mad " ; " such men 
were formerly rated as knaves, now we are obliged to call them 
obedient, Christian princes." To him they were " fools," simply 
because they were against him and thus belonged to the multitude 
who " blasphemed " the Divine Majesty. 2 

After the defeat of the peasants in 1525 he supported those 
princes favourable to his teaching at the expense of the 
peasants, so that the latter were loud in their complaints of 
him. In this connection, looking back at the overthrow of 
the Peasant Revolt, he wrote to those in power : " Who 
opposed the peasants more vigorously by word and writing 
than I ? . . . and, if it comes to boasting, I do not know 
who else was the first to vanquish the peasants, or to do so 

1 /&., p. 631=255. He speaks before this of nobles, who, after the 
peasant risings, had gone too far in their revenge. Luther inveighs in 
the strongest language against the way in which the nobles oppressed 
the poor " burghers, unhappy pastors and preachers," and says : 
" Here the lion has caught a mouse and fancies he has overcome the 
dragon. Germany is now full of such nobles and Junkers, who stink 
out the beer-houses and draw their steel only on the poor, wretched, 
defenceless people ; such are the nobles. Out on such abandoned 
people ! We Germans are indeed swine and savage beasts, and have no 
noble thoughts or courage in us, as the world too thinks ! " This in 
the Commentary on the Four Psalms of Consolation, 1526. Weim. ed., 
19, p. 604 f. ; Erl. ed., 38, p. 439 f. 

2 Weim. ed., 11, p. 246 f. ; Erl. ed., 22, p. 62 f. " Von welltlicher 
Uberkeytt," 1523, Preface. Cp. what was said, above, vol. ii., p. 205 f., 


most effectually. But now those who did the least claim 
all the honour and glory of it." 1 

After the Peasant War he was so filled with hatred of the 
peasant class and so conscious of their dislike for himself 
personally, as to be hardly able to speak of them without 
blame and reproach. " The peasants do not deserve," he 
says, " the harvests and fruits that the earth brings forth 
and provides." 

Of all classes the peasants around Wittenberg incurred his 
displeasure most severely. " They are all going to the 
devil," he says when lamenting that, " out of so many 
villages, only one man taught his household from the Word 
of God " ; with the young country folk " something " could 
be done, but the old peasants had been utterly corrupted 
by the Pope ; this was also the complaint of the Evangelical 
deacons who came in touch with them. 2 " I am very angry 
with the peasants," he wrote in 1529, " who are anxious to 
govern themselves and who do not appreciate their good 
fortune in being able to sleep in peace owing to the help and 
protection of the rulers. You helpless, boorish yokels and 
donkeys," he says to them, " will you never learn to under 
stand ? May the lightning blast you ! You have the best 
of it. . . . You have the Mark and yet are so ungrateful 
as to refuse to pray for the rulers or to give them any 
thing." 3 

As a matter of fact, however, the great ones did not wait 
for the peasants to " give " anything. 

They oppressed the country people and plundered them. 
Melanchthon wrote, particularly after 1525, of the boundless 
despotism of the authorities over the people on the land. 
Since the overthrow of the social revolution very sad changes 
had taken place among the agriculturists. The violent 
" laying of the yokels " became a general evil, and, in place 
of the small holdings of the peasant class the most virile 
and largest portion of the nation arose the large estates of 
the nobles. Not merely where the horrors of war had raged, 
but even elsewhere, e.g. in the north-east of Germany, the 
peasant found himself deprived of his rights and left defence- 

1 Weim. ed., 19, p. 278 f. ; Erl. ed., 65, p. 43. " Widder den Rad- 
schlag der Meintzischen Pfafferey," 1526 (not published by him on 
account of his sovereign s prohibition). 

2 " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 1, p. 175. 

3 Weim. ed., 28, p. 520 ; Erl. ed., 36, p. 175. 


less in the hands of the Junkers and knights. 1 " The 
reformation-age made his rights to his property and his 
standing more parlous than before." 2 

What Luther says of serfdom, the oppression and abuse 
of which had led to the Peasant Rising, is worthy of record : 
" Serfdom," he says, " is not contrary to Christianity, and 
whoever says it is tells a lie ! " 3 " Christ does not wish to 
abolish serfdom. What cares He how the lords or princes 
rule [in secular matters] ? "* 

He makes a strict application of this in his sermons on 
Genesis, where he even represents serfdom as a desirable 
state. Luther delivered these sermons in 1524 and they 
were printed from notes in 1527. In his preface he declares, 
that he was " quite willing " they should be published 
because they express his " sense and mind." He relates in 
one passage how Abimelech had bestowed " sheep and oxen, 
men-servants and maid-servants " on Abraham (xx. 14), 
and then goes on to say of the people made over : " They 
too were all personal property like other cattle, so that their 
owners might sell them as they liked, and it would verily be 
almost best that this stage of things should be revived, for 
nobody can control or tame the populace in any other way." 
Abraham did not set free the men-servants and maid 
servants given him, and yet he was accounted amongst the 
" pious and holy " and was " a just ruler." He proceeds : 
" They [the patriarchs] might easily have abolished it so 
far as they were concerned, but that would not have been 
a good thing, for the serfs would have become too proud had 
they been given so many rights, and would have thought 
themselves equal to the patriarchs or to their children. 
Each one must be kept in his place, as God has ordained, 
sons and daughters, servants, maids, husbands, wives, etc. 
... If compulsion and the law of the strong arm still ruled 
(in the case of servants and retainers) as in the past, so that 
if a man dared to grumble he got a box on the ear things 
would fare better ; otherwise it is all of no use. If they take 
wives, these are impertinent people, wild and dissolute, 
whom no one can use or have anything to do with." 5 

1 Cp. Janssen, " Hist, of the German People," xv., p. 137 ff. 

2 K. J. Fuchs, " Die Epochen der deutschen Agrargesch." (" Allg. 
Ztng.," 1898, Suppl. 70). 

3 Weim. ed., 16, p. 244 ; Erl. ed., 35, p. 233 (1524-26). 
* 76., 33, p. 659=48, p. 385 (1530-32). 

5 lb., 24 p. 367 f.=33, p. 389 f. 


The Psychological Background. Luther 1 s Estrangement from 
Whole Classes of Society 

Both in Luther s treatment of the peasants of his day 
and in his whole attitude to different classes of society, we 
find the traces of a profound and general depression which 
had seized upon him and which seems to accord ill with the 
sense of triumph one would have expected in him at the 
continued progress of his work, and at the apostasy from 
the Roman Church. Such expressions of dissatisfaction 
become more frequent as years go by and serve to some 
extent to explain and excuse his pessimism concerning the 
different classes. 

This feeling had its origin, apart from other causes, in the 
fact that Luther little by little lost touch with whole classes 
of the people, while to many of the new conditions he 
remained a stranger. He, who had held in his hands the 
destiny of so many, was, in fact, becoming to a great extent 
isolated, particularly since the actual direction of the new 
Church had been taken out of his hands and vested in the 
princes or municipal authorities. 

Not only did the rift which separated him from the 
peasants subsequent to 1525 become ever more pronounced, 
but he found hostility and dislike growing between himself 
and other classes of society. 

Under the influence of the adverse wind blowing from 
Wittenberg many of the Humanists had given up their at 
one time enthusiastic friendship and turned against him. 
Catholic scholars who had once been disposed to favour the 
reform but had been disappointed in their hopes withdrew 
from him in increasing numbers. In other districts which 
had been recently Protestantised the country clergy re 
mained faithful to the olden Church, as we see, for instance, 
from a letter of Luther s dated Sep. 19, 1539, where he speaks 
of " over five hundred parsons, poisonous Papists," who 
had " been left unexamined and now are raising their 
horns in defiance " but who, he hopes, will soon be forcibly 
sent about their business. 1 In his own camp, again, there 
were Anabaptists and other sectarians ; there were also 
theologians who refused to fall into line and either failed to 

1 To the Elector Johanri Frederick, Erl. ed., 55, p. 239 ; " Brief - 
wechsel," 12, p. 246. 


preach on faith and works as harshly as he wished, or, 
running to the opposite extreme like the Antinomians, 
went much further than he himself. In the Saxon Electorate 
Luther felt grievously the decease of those Councillors, like 
Pfeffinger and Feilitzsch, who had been well disposed 
towards him, whose places were now taken by " greedy 
Junkers and skinflints, who looked upon the ecclesiastical 
revolution as a good opportunity for increasing their family 
estates and for running riot at others expense." 1 Among 
the princes who had apostatised from the Church he also 
detected to his bitter vexation an ever-growing tendency to 
separate themselves from Wittenberg, partly owing to the 
influence of Zwinglianism, partly in consequence of their 
independent Church regulations. Such was, for instance, the 
action of Berlin, where the Protestant Elector, Joachim II 
of Brandenburg, declared in an address to his clergy : "As 
little as I mean to be bound to the Roman Church, so little 
do I mean to be bound to the Church of Wittenberg. I do 
not say : credo sanctam Romanam or Wittenbergensetn, 
but catholicam ecclesiamS and my Church here at Berlin or 
at Collen is just as much a true Christian Church as that of 
the Wittenbergers." 2 

In the sermon Luther preached at Wittenberg on June 18, 
1531, he pours forth the vials of his wrath on the nobles and 
peasants of the new faith. He was then doing duty for 
Bugenhagen, the absent pastor, and devoting himself to 
preaching, though he describes himself in a letter as " old, 
sickly and tired of life," and elsewhere, alluding to his many 
employments, says : " I am not only Luther, but Pomer- 
anus, Vicar-General, Moses, Jethro and I know not who else 
besides." 3 

In this sermon the Gospel of Dives and Lazarus recalls to his 
mind the fact that, in the Saxon Electorate, he and his preachers 
were being treated very much as Lazarus, whom the rich man 
left lying at his gate and who had to get his fill of the crumbs that 
fell from the rich man s table. " When we complain to the great, 
we get only kicks," he exclaims indignantly ; " our foes would 
gladly put a stop to the Evangel with the sword, whilst our own 
people would no less gladly cut off our head, like John the 
Baptist,^ only that the sword they use is want, misery and 
hunger." If we preach against their wickedness they say we 

1 Hausrath, " Luthers Leben," 2, 1904, p. 388 
8 Ib. * Kdstlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 246. 


are trying to defy and contradict them ! Let the devil defy 
them. They declare we want to set ourselves up against them, 
and to rule, and to bring them under our feet. For preaching 
against the rebellious peasants we are thanked by being called 
the Pope of Germany, as though we were playing the master. 
Not indeed that they mean this in earnest, but they are anxious 
to bring us to preach as they wish, otherwise they punish us with 
starvation. " The poor preachers they tread under foot, take the 
bread out of their mouths and abuse them most shamefully." 
" This ingratitude is worse than any tyranny ! " He tells them 
finally that their fate will be that of Dives, viz. hell-fire ; then 
they will long in vain even for a drop of water. x 

The world hates me, we read in another sermon, for it ever 
" hates the good." " They refuse to have anything to do with 
the ministers [of religion], there is hardly a place where they 
suffer the preacher, much less support him. My opponents 
declare that : Did I preach the truth, the people would become 
pious." This is the Anabaptists way of concealing their own 
errors. " But do not wonder," so he consoles his hearers, for 
" the purer the Word, the worse almost all become ; only a few 
become good. This is a sure sign that the doctrine is true ; . . . 
for Satan, who is stung by the truth, tries to wreck it by cor 
ruption of morals. ... He it is who sets himself up in defiance 
of it." " But there are some few who are faithful and in earnest." 
Nevertheless, the world must heap ingratitude and bitterness 
upon us otherwise it would not be the world. " By my preaching 
I have helped several, but what can I do ? If you wait till the 
world honours you, then you wait a long time and only prepare 
a cross for yourself." 2 

In a sermon on Jan. 22 of the same year he had quoted a 
saying current at that time about Rome, applying it to Witten 
berg : " The nearer to Rome, the worse the Christians." " For 
wherever the Evangel is, there it is despised." " The Lord Him 
self says in to-day s Gospel : I have not found such faith as this 
in Israel. The chosen people do not believe, though some few 
do. ... In other regions Christ may find adherents with a 
stronger faith than any in our principalities." " At Court and 
elsewhere things go ill. . . . We tread the pearls under foot." 
" So great is their shamelessness, ingratitude and hate that it is 
a sign that God is getting ready to show us something ; the 
persecution of the Evangel in our principality is worse than ever. 
I am already sick of preaching ( iam tazdet me prcedicatio )." 
" Those who refuse the offered kingdom may go to the devil, etc." 3 
The faults of the government and the increase in the prices of 
necessaries drew from him bitter words in a sermon of April 23 
of the same year : " There is no government, the biggest criminals 
( pessimi nebulones ) rule; this we have deserved by our sins." 
" When things become cheaper then war and pestilence will come 
upon us." 4 

1 Weim. ed., 34, 1, p. 529 f. 

2 76., p. 518 ff., Sermon of June 11, 1531. 

3 /&., p. 109. 4 /&., p. 334 f. 


Thus the ill will gathering within him was poured forth, as 
occasion offered, on the various classes indiscriminately. 

It seemed to him as though little by little the whole world 
was becoming a hostel of which the devil was the landlord 
and where wickedness and lust reigned supreme above all 
because it was so slow to receive his preaching. 1 Even the 
supreme Court of Justice of the Empire became in 1541 a 
44 devil s whore," 2 because the judges and imperial author 
ities were against him and stood for the old order of things. 
It was also at this time that his pent-up anger broke out 
against the Jews. 3 Here it will be sufficient to give a few 
new quotations. 

He put himself in the place of a ruler in whose lands the Jews 
blasphemed Christianity and exclaimed : "I would summon all 
the Jews and ask them," whether they could prove their insulting 
assertions. " If they could, I would give them a thousand florins ; 
if not I would have their tongues torn out by the root. In short, 
we ought not to suffer Jews to live amongst us, nor eat or drink 
with them." 4 " They are a shameful people," he says on another 
occasion, " they swallow up everything with their usury ; where 
they give a gentleman a thousand florins, they suck twenty 
thousand out of his poor underlings." 5 The demands with which 
his anger against the Jews inspires him found only too strong an 
echo amongst his followers. " It would be well," wrote the 
Lutheran preacher Jodokus Ehrhardt in 1558, after complaining 
of the usury of the Jews, "if in all places they were proceeded 
with as Father Luther advised and enjoined when, amongst other 
things, he wrote : * Let their synagogues and schools be set on 
fire . . . and let who can throw brimstone. . . . Refuse them 
safe conduct and all freedom to travel. Let all their ready money 
and treasures of gold and silver, etc., be taken from them, etc. 
Such faithful counsels and regulations were given by our divinely 
enlightened Luther." 6 

After all that has been said it would be very rash to apply 
to Luther s attitude towards the different callings and pro 
fessions the words which St. Paul wrote of himself when 

1 Weim. ed., 28, p. 329 ; Erl. ed., 50, p. 350. " We are ministers in 
a hostel where the devil is the landlord and the world the landlady, 
and the barmaids all kinds of wicked lusts, and all these, landlord, 
landlady and barmaids, are enemies and opponents of the Evangel." 

2 Erl. ed., 32, p. 77. 3 Above, vol. v., p. 403 ff. 
4 Erl. ed., 62, p. 375 f., " Tischreden." 5 /&., p. 366. 

6 Janssen, " Hist, of the German People," xv., p. 49 ff. Lucas 
Osiander the Elder sent Luther s Schem Hamphoras to Duke Frederick 
of Wurtemberg in 1598 in support of his petition for the expulsion 
of all Jews. For the same purpose, in 1612, the theological faculty 
of Giessen had some of Luther s strongest sayings against the Jews 
reprinted. /&., p. 51, n. 


considering humanity as a whole, i.e. of the power of God 
by which he had striven with endless patience and charity 
to bring home the Gospel to both Jew and Greek : "To 
the Greeks and to the barbarians, to the wise and to the 
foolish I am a debtor." " I have become all things to all 
men in order to save all." 

The Merchant Class 

The opening up of many previously unknown countries, 
the discovery of new trade routes, and the new industries 
called forth by new inventions brought about a sudden and 
quite unforeseen revival in trade and prosperity at the time 
of the religious schism. An alteration in the earlier ideas on 
political economy was bound to supervene. The upsetting 
of the mediaeval notions which now could no longer hold and 
the uncertainty as to what to build on in future led to a 
deal of confusion in that period of transition. 

What was chiefly needed in the case of one anxious to 
judge of things from their ethical and social side was experi 
ence and knowledge of the world joined with prudence and 
the spirit of charity. Annoyance was out of place ; what was 
called for was a capacity to weigh matters dispassionately. 

Among the Humanists there were some, who, because the 
new era of commerce turned men s minds from learning, 
condemned it absolutely. Thus Eobanus Hessus of Nurem 
berg laments, that, there, people were bent on acquiring 
riches rather than learning ; the world dreamt of nothing 
but saffron and pepper ; he lived, as it were, among " em 
purpled monkeys " and would rather make his home with 
the peasants of his Hessian fatherland than in his present 
surroundings. 1 What was Luther s attitude towards the 
rising merchant class and its undertakings ? 

In his case it was not merely the injury done to the schools 
and to " Christian " posterity, and the ever growing 
luxury that prejudiced him against commerce, but, above 
all, the constant infringement of the principles of morality, 
which, according to him, was a necessary result of the new 
economic life and its traffic in wares and money. He 
exaggerated the moral danger and failed entirely to see the 
economic side of the case. We do not find in him, says 

1 C. Krause, " Eoban Hessus, sein Leben und seine Werke," 2, 1879, 
p. 107. Janssen, ib., xiii., p. 101. 


Kostlin-Kawerau, " a sufficient insight into the existing 
conditions and problems," 1 nevertheless he did not shrink 
from the harshest and most uncharitable censure. 

It was his deliberate intention, so he says, " to give scandal 
to many more people on this point by setting up the true 
doctrine of Christ." This we find in a letter he wrote after 
the Leipzig Disputation when putting the finishing touch to 
his first works on usury (1519). 2 Because no attention was 
paid to his " Evangelical " ideas on usury he came to the 
conclusion that, " now, in these days, clergy and seculars, 
prelates and subjects are alike bent on thwarting Christ s 
life, doctrine and Gospel." 3 Hence he must once again 
vindicate the Gospel. He, however, distorts the Christian 
idea by making into strict commands what Christ had 
proposed as counsels of perfection. There is reason to 
believe that the mistake he here makes under the plea of 
zeal for the principles of the Gospel is bound up not merely 
with his antipathy to the idea of Evangelical Counsels, 4 but 
also with his older, pseudo-mystic tendency and with his 
conception of the true Christian. We cannot help thinking 
of his fanciful plan of assembling apart the real Christians 
when we hear him in these very admonitions bewailing that 
" there are so few Christians " ; if anyone refused to lend 
gratis it was " a sign of his deep unbelief," since we are 
assured that by so doing " we become children of the Most 
High and that our reward is great. Of such a consoling 
promise he is not worthy who will not believe and act 
accordingly." 5 

1 1, p. 279. 

2 To Johann Lang, Dec. 18, 1519, " Briefwechsel," 2, p. 281 : 
" facturus, ut multo plures offendat Christi pura doctrina." 

3 Weim. ed., 6, p. 38 ; Erl. ed., 1G 2 , p. 82. Sermon on Usury, 1519. 

4 Ib., p. 37 f.= 81, on the words of Christ, Mat. v. 40 f., that, to him 
who takes our coat we should leave our cloak also : " Many fancy this 
is not commanded or to be observed by every Christian, but is merely 
a voluntary counsel of perfection, and, like virginity and chastity, 
counselled not commanded." But " these are the artifices whereby the 
teaching and example of our dear Lord Jesus Christ as given in the holy 
Gospel, together with that of all His Martyrs and Saints, is reversed, 
neglected and altogether suppressed. . . . God will blind and disgrace 
those who turn His clear and holy Word into darkness. ... No excuse 
is of any avail, it is simply a command which we are bound to observe." 
He continues : As true Christians v/e have to observe it, but, as mem 
bers of a commonwealth we enjoy a divine institution whereby " the 
secular sword " protects us from any injury to our possessions. 

5 Ib., p. r>0f. = 98. 


In any case it was a quite subjective and unfounded 
application of Holy Scripture, when, in his sermon on 
usury, he makes the following the chief point to be com 
plied with : 

" Christian dealings with temporal possessions," he there 
says, " consist in three things, in giving for nothing, lending 
free of interest and lovingly allowing our belongings to be 
taken from us [Mat. v. 40, 42 ; Luke vi. 30] ; for there is no 
merit in your buying something, inheriting it, or gaining 
possession of it in some other honest way, since, if this were 
piety, then the heathen and Turks would also be pious." 1 

This extravagant notion of the Christian s duties led to 
his rigid and untimely vindication of the mediaeval pro 
hibition of the charging of interest, of which we shall have to 
speak more fully later. It also led him to assail all com 
mercial enterprise. 

Greatly incensed at the action of the trading companies he 
set about writing his " Von Kauffshandlung und Wucher " 

Here, speaking of the wholesale traders and merchants, he 
says : " The foreign trade that brings wares from Calicut, India 
and so forth, such as spices and costly fabrics of silk and cloth of 
gold, which serve only for display and are of no use, but merely 
suck the money out of our country and people, would not be 
allowed had we a government and real rulers." The Old Testa 
ment patriarchs indeed bought and sold, he says, but " only 
cattle, wool, grain, butter, milk and such like ; these are God s 
gifts which He raises from the earth and distributes among men " ; 
but the present trade means only the " throwing away of our 
gold and silver into foreign countries." 2 

Traders were, according to him, in a bad case from the moral 
point of view : " Let no one come and ask how he may with a 
good conscience belong to one of these companies. There is no 
other counsel than this : Drop it ; there is no other way. If 
the companies are to go on, then that will be the end of law and 
honesty ; if law and honesty are to remain, then the companies 
must cease." The companies, so he had already said, are through 
and through " unstable and without foundation, all rank avarice 
and injustice, so that they cannot even be touched with a good 
conscience. . . . They hold all the goods in their hands and do 
with them as they please." They aim " at making sure of their 
profit in any case, which is contrary to the nature, not only of 
commercial wares but of all temporal goods which God wishes to 
be ever in danger and uncertainty. They, however, have dis- 

1 16., p. 6=117 ; cp. p. 50=98. 

2 Weim. ed., 15, p. 294 f. ; Erl. ed., 22, p. 201. 

vr. o 


covered a means of securing a sure profit even on uncertain 
temporal goods." A man can thus " in a short time become so 
rich as to be able to buy up kings and emperors " ; such a thing 
cannot possibly be " right or godly." 1 

As a further reason for condemning profit from trade and 
money transactions he points out, that such profit does not arise 
from the earth or from cattle. 2 

With both these arguments he is, however, on purely mediaeval 
ground. He pays but little regard to the new economic situation, 
though he has a keen eye for the abuses and the injustice which 
undoubtedly accompanied the new commerce. Instead, however, 
of confining his censure to these and pointing out how things 
might be improved, he prefers to take his stand on an already 
obsolete theory one, nevertheless, which many shared with him 
and condemn unconditionally all such commercial under 
takings with the violence and lack of consideration usual in him. 3 

In his remarks we often find interesting thoughts on the 
economic conditions ; we see the remarkable range of his 
intellect and occasionally we may even wonder whence he 
had his vast store of information. It is also evident, how 
ever, that the other work with which he was overwhelmed 
did not leave him time to digest his matter. Often enough 
he is right when he stigmatises the excesses, but on the whole 
he goes much too far. As Frank G. Ward says : " Because he 
was incapable of passing a discriminating judgment on the 
abuses that existed he simply condemned all commerce 
off-hand." 4 He was too fond of scenting evil usury every 
where. A contemporary of his, the merchant Bonaventura 
Furtenbach, of Nuremberg, having come across one of 
Luther s writings on the subject, possibly his " Von Kauffs- 
handlung," remarked sarcastically : " Were I to try to write 
a commentary on the Gospel of Luke everyone would say, 
you are not qualified to do so. So it is with Luther when he 
treats of the interest on money ; he has never studied such 
matters." 5 A Hamburg merchant also made fun of Luther s 
economics, and, as the Hamburg Superintendent JSpinus 
(Johann Hock) reported, quoted the instance of the 
Peripatetician Phormion, who gave Hannibal a scholastic 
lecture on the art of war, for which reason it is usual to dub 

1 76., p. 312ff.= 223ff. 

2 Ib., 6, p. 466=21, p. 357. 

3 Cp. ib., 15, p. 304=22, p. 214 f. 

4 " Daratellung und Wiirdigung der Ansichten Luthers vom Staat 
und seinen wirtschaftlichen Aufgaben," 1898, p. 83. 

6 Quoted by Luther in 1540, see Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 78. 


him who tries to speak of things of which he knows nothing, 
a new Phormion. 1 

In his " An den Adel " Luther had shown himself more 
reticent, though even here he inveighs against interest and 
trading companies, and says : "I am not conversant with 
figures, but I cannot understand how, with a hundred florins, 
it is possible to gain twenty annually. ... I leave this to 
the worldly wise. I, as a theologian, have only to censure 
the appearance of evil concerning which St. Paul says 
[1 Thess. v. 22] from all appearance of evil refrain ! This 
I know very well," he continues, speaking from the 
traditional standpoint, " that it would be much more godly 
to pay more attention to tilling the soil and less to trade." 
Yet, even in this writing, he goes so far as to say : " It is 
indeed high time that a bit were put in the mouth of the 
Fuggers and such-like companies." 2 

More and more plainly he was, however, forced to realise 
that it was not within his power to check the new develop 
ment of commerce ; he, nevertheless, stuck by his earlier 
views. He was also, and to some extent justifiably, shocked 
at the growing luxury which had made its way into the 
burgher class and into the towns generally in the train of 
foreign trade. Instead of " staying in his place and being 
content with a moderate living," " everyone wants to be a 
merchant and to grow rich." 3 

" We despise the arts and languages," lie says, " but refuse to 
do without the foreign wares which are neither necessary nor 
profitable to us, but [the expenses of] which lay our very bones 
bare. Do we not thereby show ourselves to be true Germans, 
i.e. fools and beasts ? " 4 God " has given us, like other nations, 
sufficient wool, hair, flax and everything else necessary for 
suitable and becoming clothing, but now men squander fortunes 
on silk, satin, cloth of gold and all sorts of foreign stuffs. . . . We 
could also do with less spices." People might say he was trying 
to " put down the wholesale trade and commerce. But I do my 
duty. If things are not improved in the community, at least let 
whoever can amend." 5 

" I cannot see that much in the way of good has ever come to 
a country through commerce." 6 

He refused to follow the more luxurious mode of living which 
had become the rule in the towns as a result of trade, but insisted 

1 16. 2 Weim. ed., 6, p. 466 ; Erl. ed., 21, p. 357. 

3 Ib., 15, p. 304=22, p. 213 f. Von Kauffshandluiig, etc. 

4 /&., p. 36=181. " An die Radherrn." 

5 Ib., 6, p. 465f.= 21, p. 356. a Ib., p. 466=356. 


on leading the more simple life to which he had throughout been 
accustomed. For the good of the people, poverty or simplicity was 
on the whole more profitable than riches. " People say, and 
with truth, It takes a strong man to bear prosperity, and A 
man can endure many things but not good fortune. ... If 
we have food and clothing let us esteem it enough. For the 
cities of the plain which God destroyed it would have been better, 
if, instead of abounding in wealth, everything had been of the 
dearest, and there had been less superfluity." x " What worse and 
more wanton can be conceived of than the mad mob and the 
yokels when they are gorged with food and have the reins in 
their hands." 2 

Hence he took a " tolerable maintenance " as he expresses 
it, i.e. the mode of living suitable to a man s state, as the 
basis of a fair wage. The question of wages must in the last 
instance, he thinks, depend on the question of maintenance. 
Luther, like Calvin, did not go any further in this matter. 
" Their conservative ideas saw in high wages only the 
demoralisation of the working classes." 3 

Luther s remarks on this subject " recall the words of 
Calvin, viz. that the people must always be kept in poverty 
in order that they may remain obedient." 4 

According to his view " the price of goods was synony 
mous with their barter value expressed in money ; money 
was the fixed, unchangeable standard of things ; it never 
occurred to anyone that an alteration in the value of money 
might come, a mistake which led to much confusion. Again, 
the barter value of a commodity was its worth calculated on 
the cost of the material it contained and of the trouble and 
labour expended on its manufacture. This calculation 
excluded the subjective element, just as it ignored com 
petition as a factor in the determining of prices." 5 Thus, 
according to Luther, the merchant had merely to calculate 
" how many days he had spent in fetching and acquiring the 
goods, and how great had been the work and danger involved, 
for much labour and time ought to represent a higher and 
better wage " ; he should in this " compare himself to the 
common day-labourer or working-man, see what he earns in 
a day, and calculate accordingly." More than a " tolerable 

1 /&., 24, p. 351 f.= 33, p. 370 f. 

2 Ib., 18, p. 391=24 2 , p. 320 (1525). 

3 Ward, " Darstellung," etc., p. 73. 

4 Kampschulte, "Johannes Calvin," 1, 1869, p. 430. Ward, ib. 
6 Ward, ib., p. 74. 


maintenance " was, however, to be avoided in commerce, 
and likewise all such profit " as might involve loss to 
another." 1 It would have pleased him best had the author 
ities fixed the price of everything, but, owing to their 
untrust worthiness, this appeared to him scarcely to be 
hoped for. The principle : "I shall sell my goods as dear as 
I can," he opposed with praiseworthy firmness ; this was 
"to open door and window to hell." 2 He also inveighed 
rightly and strongly against the artificial creation of scarcity. 
Here, too, we see that his ideas were simply those in vogue 
in the ranks from which he came. 

" His economic views in many particulars display a retro 
grade tendency." 3 " In the history of economics he cannot 
be considered as either an original or a systematic thinker. 
We frequently find him adopting views which were current 
without seriously testing their truth or their grounds. . . . 
His exaggerations and inconsequence must be explained by 
the fact that he took but little interest in worldly business. 
His interpretation of things depended on his own point of 
view rather than on the actual nature of the case." 4 

The worst of it is that his own " point of view " intruded 
itself far too often into his criticisms of social conditions. 

Influence of Old-Testament Ideas 

Excessive regard for the Old-Testament enactments helped 
Luther to adopt a peculiar outlook on things social and 

He says in praise of the Patriarchs : " They were devout and 
holy men who ruled well even among the heathen ; now there is 
nothing like it." 5 He often harks back to the social advantages 
of certain portions of the Jewish law, and expressly regrets that 
there were no princes who had the courage to take steps to re- 
introduce them for the benefit of mankind. 

In 1524, under the influence of his Biblical studies, he wrote to 
Duke Johann Frederick of Saxony, praising the institution of 
tithes and even of fifths : "It would be a grand thing if, accord 
ing to ancient usage, a tenth of all property were annually handed 
over to the authorities ; this would be the most Godly interest 
possible. . . . Indeed it would be desirable to do away with all 

1 Weim. ed., 15, p. 296 ; Erl. ed., 22, p. 204. Ward, ib., p. 75. 

2 " Werke," ib., p. 295=202. 3 Ward, p. 101. 
4 Ward, &., p. 94 

* Weim. ed., 24, p. 368 ; Erl. ed., 33, p. 390. 


other taxes and impose on the people a payment of a fifth or 
sixth, as Joseph did in Egypt." 1 At the same time he is quite 
aware that such wishes are impracticable, seeing that, " not the 
Mosaic, but the Imperial law is now accepted by the world and 
in use." 

Partly owing to the impossibility of a return to the Old 
Covenant, partly out of a spirit of contradiction to the new party, 
he opposed the fanatics demand that the Mosaic law should be 
introduced as near as possible entire, and the Imperial, Roman 
law abrogated as heathenish and the Papal, Canon law as anti- 
Christian. Duke Johann, the Elector s brother, was soon half 
won over to these fantastic ideas by the Court preacher, Wolfgang 
Stein, but Luther and Melanchthon succeeded in making him 
change his mind. 2 The necessity Luther was under of opposing 
the Anabaptists here produced its fruits ; his struggle with the 
fanatics preserved him from the consequences of his own personal 
preference for the social regulations of the Old Covenant. 

In what difficulties his Old-Testament ideas on polygamy 
involved him the history of the bigamy of Philip of Hesse has 
already shown. 3 Had such ideas concerning marriage been 
realised in society the revolution in the social order would indeed 
have been great. 

Luther s esteem for the social laws of the Old Testament finds 
its best expression in his sermons on Genesis, which first saw 
the light in 1527. 

He says, for instance, of the Jewish law of restitution and 
general settlement of affairs, in the Jubilee Year : " It is laid 
down in Moses that no one can sell a field in perpetuity but only 
until the Jubilee Year, and when this came each one recovered 
possession of his field or the property he had sold, and thus the 
lands remained in the family. There are also some other fine 
]aws in the Books of Moses which well might be adopted, made 
use of and put in force." He even wishes that the Imperial 
Government would take the lead in re-enacting them " for as 
long as is desired, but without compulsion." 4 

His views on interest and usury were likewise influenced 
by his one-sided reading of certain Old- and New-Testament 

Usury and Interest 

On the question of the lawfulness of charging interest 
Luther not only laid down no " new principles " which might 
have been of help for the future, but, on the contrary, he 
paved the way for serious difficulties. He was not to be 

1 On June 18, 1524, Erl. ed., 53, p. 244 (" Brief wechsel," 4, p. 354). 

2 Cp. Enders in n. 3 to the above letter. 

3 See above, vol. iv., p. 13 ff. 

* Weim. ed., 24, p. 8 ; Erl. ed., 33, p. 11 (1527). 


moved from the traditional, mediaeval standpoint which 
viewed the charging of any interest whatever on loans as 
something prohibited. His foe, Johann Eck, on the other 
hand, in a Disputation at Bologna, had defended the lawful 
ness of moderate interest. 1 

After having repeatedly attacked by word and pen usury 
and the charging of any interest 2 led thereto, as he says, 
by the grievous abuses in the commercial and financial 
system, he published in 1539 his " An die Pfarherrn wider 
den Wucher zu predigen," whence most of what follows has 
been taken. As it was written towards the end of his life, 
we may assume it to represent the result of his experience 
and the final statement of his convictions. 

In this writing, after a sad outburst on the increase of 
usury in Germany, he begins his " warnings " by urging that 
" the people should be told firmly and plainly concerning 
lending and borrowing, and that when money is lent and a 
charge made or more taken back than was originally made 
over, this is usury, and as such is condemned by every law. 
Hence those are usurers who charge 5, or 6, or more on the 
hundred on the money they lend, and should be called 
idolatrous ministers of avarice or Mammon, nor can they 
be saved unless they do penance. . . . To lend is to give 
a man my money, property or belongings so that he may 
use them. . . . Just as one neighbour lends another a dish, 
a can, a bed, or clothes, and in the same way money, 
or money s worth, in return for which I may not take any 
thing." 3 

The writer of these words, like so many others who, in his 
day and later, still adhered to the old canonical standpoint, 
failed to see, that, as things then were, to lend money was 
to surrender to the borrower a commodity which was already 
bringing in some return, and that, in consequence of this, 
the lender had a right to demand some indemnification. As 
this had not generally speaking been the case in the Middle 

1 Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 279. Cp. J. Schneid, " Hist.-pol. Bl.," 
108, 1891, pp. 241 ff. 473 ff., and B. Duhr, " Zeitschr. f. Kath. Theol.," 
24, 1900, p. 210. 

2 Cp. the Sermons on Usury of 1519, also certain passages in his 
" An den christl. Adel," the booklet " Von Kauffshandlung und 
Wucher," 1524, arid the Sermon against Usury of April 13, 1539, which 
he followed up by a written appeal to the Wittenberg magistrates. 
M. Neumann, " Gesch. des Wuchers in Deutschland," Halle, 1868, 
pp. 481, 618 ff. 3 Erl. ed., 23, p. 283 f. 


Ages, the prohibition of charging interest was then a just 
one. Nevertheless, within certain limits, it was slowly 
becoming obsolete and, as the economic situation changed 
for that of modern times and money became more liquid, 
the more general did lending at interest become. 

Luther was well aware that to lend at interest was already 
" usual " and even " common in all classes." 1 It was also, 
as a Protestant contemporary complained in 1538, twice 
as prevalent in the Lutheran communities than among 
the Catholics. 2 Still Luther insists obstinately that, " it 
was a very idle objection, and one that any village sexton 
could dispose of when people pleaded the custom of the 
world contrary to the Word of God, or against what was 
right. ... It is nothing new or strange that the world 
should be hopeless, accursed, damned ; this it had always 
been and would ever remain. If you obey its behests, you 
also will go with it into the abyss of hell." 3 

Though in his instructions to the pastors he condemns in 
discriminately, as a " thief, robber and murderer," everyone who 
charges interest, still he wants his teaching to be applied above 
all to the " great ogres in the world, who can never charge 
enough per cent." " The sacrament and absolution " were to be 
denied them, and " when about to die they were to be left like 
the heathen and not granted Christian burial " unless they had 
first done penance. To the " small usurer it is true my sentence 
may sound terrible, I mean to such as take but five or six on the 
hundred." 5 

All, however, whether the percentage they charge be small or 
great, he advises to bring their objections to him, or to some 
other minister, " or to a good lawyer," 5 so as to learn the further 
reasons and particulars concerning the prohibition of receiving 
interest. Every pastor was to preach strongly and fearlessly on 
its general unlawfulness in order that he may not "go to the 
devil " with those of his flock who charge interest. 

Not that Luther was very hopeful about the results of such 
preaching. " The whole world is full of usurers," he said in 1542 
in the Table-Talk, and to a friend who had asked him : " Why 
do not the princes punish such grievous usury and extortion ? " 
Luther answers : " Surely, the princes and kings have other 
things to do ; they have to feast, drink and hunt, and can 
not attend to this." " Things must soon come to a head and 

1 Ib., p. 285. 

2 The Anabaptist Jorg Schnabel said in 1538, that on 20 gulden 
two or three were now taken as interest. For the text, see Janssen, 
ib., xv., p. 38. Erl. ed., 23, p. 285. 

4 Ib., p. 304 f. * Ib., p. 285. 


a great and unforeseen change take place ! I hope, however, that 
the Last Day will soon make an end of it all." 1 

As to his grounds for condemning interest, he declares in the 
same conversation : " Money is an unfruitful commodity which 
I cannot sell in such a way as to entitle me to a profit." He is 
but re-echoing the axiom " Pecunia est sterilis," etc., maintained 
all too long in learned Catholic circles. Hence, as he says in 1540, 
" Lending neither can nor ought to be a true trade or means of 
livelihood ; nor do I believe the Emperor thinks so either." 
Besides, " it is not enough in the sight of heaven to obey the laws 
of the Emperor." 2 According to him God had positively forbidden 
in the Old Testament the charging of any interest, as contrary 
to the natural law and as oppressive and unlawful usury (Ex. xxii. 
25 ; Lev. xxv. 36 ; Deut. xxiii. 19, etc.). In the New Testament 
Christ, so Luther thinks, solemnly confirmed the prohibition when 
He said in St. Matthew s gospel : " Give to him that asketh thee 
and from him that would borrow of thee turn not away " (v. 42), 
and in St. Luke (vi. 35) still more emphatically : " Lend, hoping 
for nothing." 3 

In the Old Law, however, the charging of interest was by no 
means absolutely forbidden to the Jews (Deut. xxiii. 19 f.), so 
that it could not be regarded as a thing repugnant to the natural 
law, though the Mosaic Code interdicted it among the Jews them 
selves. As for the New- Testament passages Luther had no right 
to infer any prohibition from them. Our Saviour, after speaking 
of offering the other cheek to the smiter, of giving also our cloak 
to him who would take away our coat, and of other instances of 
the exercise of extraordinary virtue, goes on to advise our lending 
without hope of return. But many understood this as a counsel, 
not as a command. Luther indeed says that thereby they were 
making nought of Christ s doctrine. He insists that all these 
counsels were real commands, viz. commands to be ever ready to 
suffer injustice and to do good ; the secular authorities were 
there to see that human society thereby suffered no harm. The 
Papists, however, and the scholastics looked upon these things 
in a different light. " The sophists had no reason for altering our 
Lord s commands and for making out that they were consilia 
as they term them." 4 "They teach that Christ did not enjoin 
these things on all Christians, but only on the perfect, each one 
being free to keep them if he desires." In this way the Papists 
do away with the doctrine of Christ ; they thereby condemn, 
destroy and get rid of good works, whilst all the time accusing us 
of forbidding them ; " hence it is that the world has got so full 
of monks, tonsures and Masses." 5 Yet, even if we take the 
words of Christ, as quoted, let us say, by St. Luke, and see in 
them a positive command, yet they would refer only to the social 
and economic conditions prevailing among the Jews at the time 

1 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 259 ; according to Heydenreich s 
Notes. Ed. ed., 57, p. 360. 

2 Erl. ed., 23, p. 306 f. * Ib. p. 319. 

* /&., cp. above, p. 80, n. 4. /6., p. 311 f. 


the words were spoken. According to certain commentators, 
moreover, the words have no reference to the question of interest, 
because, so they opine, " it was a question of relinquishing all 
claim not merely on the interest but on the capital itself." 1 

The Jesuit theologians of the 16th and 17th centuries as 
a rule were careful to instance a number of cases in which the 
canonical prohibition of charging even a moderate rate of 
interest does not apply. They thus paved the way for the 
abrogation of the prohibition. Of this we have an instance 
in lago Lainez, who in principle was strongly averse to the 
charging of interest. This theologian, who later became 
General of the Jesuits, when a preacher at the busy com 
mercial city of Genoa, wrote (1553-1554) an essay on usury 
embodying the substance of his addresses to the merchants. 2 
Lainez there points out that any damage accruing to the 
lender from the loan, and also the temporary absence of 
profit on it, constitutes a sufficient ground for demanding a 
moderate interest. 3 He also strongly insists that the lender, 
in compensation for his willingness to lend, may accept from 
the borrower a " voluntary " premium ; 4 the lender, more 
over, has a perfect right to safeguard himself by stipulating 
for a fine (pcena conventional**) from the borrower should 
repayment be delayed. All this comes under the instances 
of " apparent usury," which he enumerates : " Casus qui 
videntur usurarii et non sunt " (cap. 10). 

Luther devotes no such prudent consideration to those 
exceptional cases. He was more inclined by nature harshly 
to vindicate the principles he had embraced than to seek how 
best to limit them in practice . "He did not take into account 
loans asked for, not from necessity, but for the purpose of 
making profit on the borrowed money " ; 5 yet, after all, 
this was the very point on which the question turned in the 
early days of economic development. He discusses the 
lawfulness of a voluntary premium and comes to the con 
clusion that it is wrong. He scoffs at the lender, as a mere 
hypocrite, who argues : " The borrower is very thankful for 
such a loan and freely and without compulsion offers me 

1 P. Schanz, " Commentar iiber clas Lukasevang.," 1883, p. 226. 

2 Printed in H. Grisar, " lacobi Lainez Disputationes Tridentinse 
torn. 2 : Disput. varise ; accedunt Commentarii morales," Oenipoiite, 
1886, pp. 227-321, with Introduction, pp. 60*-64*. 

3 P. 240 ; cp. p. 63*. * P. 344 syq. 
? Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 432. 


5, 6 or even 10 florins on the hundred." " But even an 
adulteress and an adulterer," says Luther in his usual vein, 
" are thankful and pleased with each other ; a robber, too, 
does an assassin a great service when he helps him to 
commit highway robbery." The borrower does the lender 
a similar criminal service and spiritual injury, for which no 
premium can make compensation. 1 As regards the case 
where the loan is not repaid at the specified time, Luther is, 
of course, of opinion that any real loss to the owner must be 
made good by the borrower. But now, he says, " they 
accept reimbursement for losses which they never suffered 
at all," they simply calculate the interest on a loss which 
they may possibly surfer from not having back the money 
when the time comes for buying or paying. " In its efforts 
to make a certainty of what is uncertain, will not usury 
soon be the ruin of the world ! " 2 

In the Table-Talk a friend, in 1542, raised an objection : 
If a man trades with the money lent him and makes 15 florins 
yearly, he must surely pay the lender something for this. 
Of this Luther, however, will not hear. " No, this is merely 
an accidental profit, and on accidentals no rule can be 
based." 3 That the profit was " accidental " was, however, 
simply his theory. 

In spite of all this Luther did make exceptions, though, in view 
of his rigid theory and reading of the Bible, it is difficult to see 
how he could justify them. 

Thus, he is willing to allow usury in those cases where the 
charging of interest is "in reality a sort of work of mercy to the 
needy, who would otherwise have nothing, and where no great 
injury is done to another." Thus, when " old people, poor 
widows or orphans, or other necessitous folk, who have learned 
no other way of making a living," were only able to support 
themselves by lending out their money, in such cases the " lawyers 
might well seek to mitigate somewhat the severity of the law." 
" Should an appeal be made to the ruler," then the proverb 
" Necessity knows no law " might be quoted. " It might here 
serve to call to mind that the Emperor Justinian had permitted 
such mitigated usury [he had sanctioned the taking of 4, 6 or 8 per 
cent], and in such a case I am ready to agree and to answer for it 
before God, particularly in the case of needy persons and where 
usury is practised out of necessity or from charity. If, however, 
it was wanton, avaricious, unnecessary usury, merely for the 
purpose of trade and profit, then I would not agree " ; even the 

1 P. 287. 2 P. 294. 

3 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 259. 


Emperor himself could not make this legitimate ; for it is not 
the laws of the Emperor which lead us to heaven, but the observ 
ance of the laws of God." 1 

It follows from this that even the so-called " titulus legis " 
found no favour in his sight in the case of actual money loans, for 
it is of this, not of " purchasable interest," that he speaks in the 
writing to the pastors. A real, honest purchase, so he there says 
quite truly, is no usury. * 

A remarkable deflection from his strict principles is to be found 
not only in the words just quoted but also in his letter to the town 
council of Erfurt sent in 1525 at the time of the rising in that 
town and the neighbourhood. The mutineers refused among 
other things to continue paying interest on the sums borrowed. 
For this refusal Luther censures them as rebels, and also refuses 
to hear of their " deducting the interest from the sum total " 
(i.e. the capital). He here vindicates the lenders as follows : 
" Did I wish yearly to spend some of the total amount I should 
naturally keep it by me. Why should I hand it over to another as 
though I were a child, and allow another to trade with it ? Who 
can dispose of his money even at Erfurt in such a way that it 
shall be paid out to him yearly and bit by bit ? This would 
really be asking too much." 3 

Luther also relaxed his principles in favour of candidates for 
the office of preacher. When, in 1532, the widow of Wolfgang 
Jorger, an Austrian Governor, offered him 500 florins for 
stipends for " poor youths prosecuting their studies in Holy 
Scripture " at Wittenberg, at the same time asking him how to 
place it, he unhesitatingly replied that it should be lent out at 
interest ; "I, together with Master Philip and other good friends 
and Masters, have thought this best because it is to be expended 
on such a good, useful and necessary work." He suggested that 
the money " should be handed in at the Rathaus " at Nurem 
berg to Lazarus Spengler, syndic of that town ; if this could not 
be, then he would have it " invested elsewhere." Such " good 
works in Christ " are, he says, unfortunately not common 
amongst us " but rather the contrary, so that they leave the poor 
ministers to starve ; the nobles as well as the peasants and the 
burghers are all of them more inclined to plunder than to help."* 
Thus it was his desire to help the preachers that determined his 
action here. 

A writer, who, as a rule, is disposed to depict Luther s social 
ethics in a very favourable light, remarks : " When his attention 
was riveted on the abuses arising from the lending of money 
[and the charging of interest] he could see nothing but evil in the 
whole thing ; on the other hand, if some good purpose was to be 
served by the money, he regarded this as morally quite justifi 
able." 5 That Luther "was not always true to his theories," and that 

1 Erl. ed., 23, p. 306 f. 2 /&., p. 338. 

5 Sep. 19, 1525, Erl. ed., 65, p. 239 f. (" Brief wechsel," 5, p. 243). 
To Dorothy Jorger, March 7, 1532, Erl. ed., 54, p. 277 (" Brief - 
wechsel," 9, p. 160). 6 Ward, " Darstellung," etc., p. 94. 


he is far from displaying any " striking originality " in his 
economic views, cannot, according to this author, be called into 
question. l 

Luther on Unearned Incomes and Annuities 

A great change took place in Luther s views concerning 
the buying of the right to receive a yearly interest, nor was 
the change an unfortunate one. He was induced to abandon 
his earlier standpoint that such purchase was wrong and to 
recognise, that, within certain limits, it could be perfectly 

The nature of this sort of purchase, then very common, 
he himself explains in his clear and popular style : " If I 
have a hundred florins with which I might gain five, six or 
more florins a year by means of my labour, I can give them 
to another for investment in some fertile land in order that, 
not I, but he, may do business with them ; hence I receive 
from him the five florins I might have made, and thus he 
sells me the interest, five florins per hundred, and I am the 
buyer and he the seller." 2 It was an essential point in the 
arrangement that the money should be employed in an 
undertaking in some way really fruitful or profitable to the 
receiver of the capital, i.e. in real estate, which he could 
farm, or in some other industry ; the debtor gave up the 
usufruct to the creditor together with the interest agreed 
upon, but was able to regain possession of it by repayment of 
the debt. The creditor, according to the original arrange 
ment, was also to take his share in the fluctuations in profit, 
and not arbitrarily to demand back his capital. 

At first Luther included such transactions among the 
" fig-leaves " behind which usury was wont to shelter 
itself ; they were merely, so he declared in 1519 in his 
Larger Sermon on Usury, " a pretty sham and pretence 
by which a man can oppress others without sin and become 
rich without labour or trouble." 3 In the writing " An den 
Adel " he even exclaimed : " The greatest misfortune of 
the German nation is undoubtedly the traffic in interest. 
. . . The devil invented it and the Pope, by sanctioning it, 
has wrought havoc throughout the world." 4 It is quite true 
that the arrangement, being in no wise unjust, had received 

1 Ib., p. 95. 

2 Weim. ed., 6, p. 53 ; Erl. eel., 16 2 , p. 102 (1519). 

3 76., p. 51=99. 4 Ib., p. 466=21, p. 356 f. 


the conditional sanction of the Church and was widely 
prevalent in Christendom. Many abuses and acts of oppres 
sion had, indeed, crept into it, particularly with the general 
spread of the practice of charging interest on money loans, 
but they were not a necessary result of the transaction. 
Luther, in those earlier days, demanded that such " trans 
actions should be utterly condemned and prevented for the 
future, regardless of the opposition of the Pope and all his 
infamous laws [to the condemnation], and though he might 
have erected his pious foundations on them. ... In truth, 
the traffic in interest is a sign and a token that the world is 
sold into the devil s slavery by grievous sins." 1 Yet Luther 
himself allows the practice under certain conditions in the 
Larger Sermon on Usury published shortly before, from 
which it is evident that here he is merely voicing his detesta 
tion of the abuses, and probably, too, of the " Pope and his 
infamous laws." 

In fact his first pronouncements against the investing of 
money are all largely dictated by his hostility to the existing 
ecclesiastical government ; " that churches, monasteries, 
altars, this and that," should be founded and kept going by 
means of interest, is what chiefly arouses his ire. In 1519 
he busies himself with the demolition of the objection 
brought forward by Catholics, who argued : " The churches 
and the clergy do this and have the right to do it because 
such money is devoted to the service of God." 

In his Larger Sermon on Usury he gives an instance 
where he is ready to allow transactions at interest, viz. 
" where both parties require their money and therefore 
cannot afford to lend it for nothing but are obliged to help 
themselves by means of bills of exchange. Provided the 
ghostly law be not infringed, then a percentage of four, five or 
six florins may be taken." 2 Thus he here not only falls back 
on the " ghostly law," but also deviates from the line he had 
formerly laid down. In fact we have throughout to deal 
more with stormy effusions than with a ripe, systematic 
discussion of the subject. 

Later on, his general condemnations of the buying of 
interest-rights become less frequent. 

He even wrote in 1524 to Duke Johann Frederick of 
Saxony : Since the Jewish tithes cannot be re-introduced, 
1 Ib. a /&., 6, p. 58= 16 2 , p. 108 (1519). 


" it would be well to regulate everywhere the purchase of 
interest-rights, but to do away with them altogether would 
not be right since they might be legalised." 1 As a condition 
for justifying the transaction he requires above all that no 
interest should be charged without " a definitely named and 
stated pledge," for to charge on a mere money pledge would 
be usury. " What is sterile cannot pay interest." 2 Further 
the right of cancelling the contract was to remain in the 
hands of the receiver of the capital. The interest once 
agreed upon was to be paid willingly. He himself relied on 
the practice and once asked : "If the interest applied to 
churches and schools were cut off, how would the ministers 
and schools be maintained ? " 3 

With regard to the rate of interest allowable in his opinion, 
he says in his sermons on Mat. xviii. (about 1537) : " We 
would readily agree to the paying of six or even of seven or 
eight on the hundred." 4 As a reason he assigns the fact 
that " the properties have now risen so greatly in value," a 
remark to which he again comes back in 1542 in his Table- 
Talk in order to justify his not finding even seven per cent 
excessive. 5 He thus arrives eventually at the conclusion of 
the canonists who, for certain good and just reasons, 
allowed a return of from seven to eight per cent. 

In his " An die Pfarherrn " he took no account of such pur 
chases but merely declared that he would find some other occa 
sion " of saying something about this kind of usury " ; at the 
same time a " fair, honest purchase is no usury." 6 

All the more strongly in this writing, the tone of which is only 
surpassed by the attacks on the usury of the Jews contained in his 
last polemics, does he storm against the evils of that usury which 
was stifling Germany. The pastors and preachers were to " stick 
to the text," where the Gospel forbids the taking of anything in 
return for loans. 7 That this will bring him into conflict with the 
existing custom he takes for granted. In his then mood of pessi 
mistic defiance he was anxious that the preachers should boldly 

June 18, 1524, Erl. ed., 53, p. 245 f. (" Briefe," 4, p. 354). 

To Sebastian Weller at Mansfeld, July 26, 1543, Erl. ed., 56, 
p. Iviii. 

To Count Wolfgang von Gleichen, March 9, 1543, ib., p. 57. 

Ib., 45, p. 7. 

Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 259. " The properties have risen. 
Where formerly an estate was worth one hundred florins it is now worth 
quite three ; qui ante potuit dare 5, potest nunc dare 6 vel septem" 

Erl. ed., 23, pp. 286, 338. In the above letter to Sebastian Weller 
he declares (p. Iviii) that, in his epistle to the parsons, he had only 
spoken " of mutuum and datum." 7 Ib., p. 289. 


hurl at all the powers that be the words of that Bible which 
cannot lie : where evil is so rampant " God must intervene and 
make an end, as He did with Sodom, with the world at the Deluge, 
with Babylon, with Rome and such like cities, that were utterly 
destroyed. This is what we Germans are asking for, nor shall we 
cease to rage until people shall say : Germany was, just as we now 
say of Rome and of Babylon." 1 

He nevertheless gives the preachers a valuable hint as to how 
they were to proceed in order to retain their peace of mind and 
get over difficulties. Here " it seems to me better . . . for the 
sake of your own peace and tranquillity, that you should send 
them to the lawyers whose duty and office it is to teach and to 
decide on such wretched, temporal, transitory, worldly matters, 
particularly when they [your questioners] are disposed to haggle 
about the Gospel text." 2 "For this reason, according to our 
preaching, usury with all its sins should be left to the lawyers, for, 
unless they whose duty it is to guard the dam help in defending 
it, the petty obstacles we can set up will not keep back the flood." 
But, after all, " the world cannot go on without usury, without 
avarice, without pride . . . otherwise the world would cease to 
be the world nor would the devil be the devil." 3 

The difficulties which beset Luther s attitude on the 
question of interest were in part of his own creation. 

" In the question of commerce and the charging of interest," 
says Julius Kostlin in his " Theologie Luthers," " he displays, 
for all his acumen, an unmistakable lack of insight into the true 
value for social life of trade particularly of that trade on a large 
scale with which we are here specially concerned in spite of all 
the sins and vexations which it brings with it, or into the impor 
tance of loans at interest something very different from loans to 

* Ib., p. 298. 2 Ib., p. 289. 

3 Ib., p. 296. Very mild indeed are the directions he gives in his 
letter to the town-council of Dantzig on the charging of interest (May 
5 (?), 1525, " Werke," Erl. ed., 53, p. 296, " Brief wechsel," 5, p. 165) : 
" The Gospel is a spiritual rule by which no government can act. . . . 
The spiritual rule of the Gospel must be carefully distinguished from 
the outward, secular rule and on no account be confused with it. The 
Gospel rule the preacher must urge only by word of mouth and each 
one be left free in this matter ; whoever wishes to take it, let him do so, 
whoever does not, let him leave it alone. I will give an example : the 
charging of interest is altogether at variance with the Gospel since 
Christ teaches lend hoping for nothing. But we must not rush in 
here and suddenly put an end to all dissensions in accordance with the 
Gospel. No one has the right or the power to do this, for it has arisen 
out of human laws which St. Peter does not wish abrogated ; but it is 
to be preached and the interest paid to those to whom it is due, whether 
they are willing to accept this Gospel and to surrender the interest or 
not. We cannot take them any further than this, for the Gospel 
demands willing hearts, moved by the Spirit of God." The letter 
seems also to be aimed at the fanatics, whose violent action in opposing 
the charging of interest as un-Evangelical, Luther frowned on. 


the poor for the furthering of work and the development of 
the land." 1 

With reference to what Kostlin here says it must, however, be 
again pointed out that Luther s lack of insight may be explained 
to some extent " by the great change which was just then coming 
over the economic life of Germany." It must also be added, that, 
in Luther s case, the struggle against usury was in itself a 
courageous and deserving work, and, that, hand in hand with it, 
went those warm exhortations to charity which he knew so well 
how to combine with Christ s Evangelical Counsels. *. 

In his attack on the abuses connected with usury his indigna 
tion at the mischief, and his ardent longing to help the oppressed, 
frequently called forth impressive and heart-stirring words. 
Though, in what Luther said about usury and on the economic 
conditions of his day, we meet much that is vague, incorrect and 
passionate, yet, on the other hand, we also find some excellent 
hints and suggestions. 2 

It is notorious that the controversy regarding the lawful 
ness of interest, even of 5 per cent, on money loans, went on 
for a long time among theologians both Catholic and Protes 
tant. The subject was also keenly debated among the 
16th-century Jesuits. No theologian, however, succeeded in 
proving the sinfulness of the charging of a five per cent 
interest under the circumstances which then obtained in 
Germany. Attempts to have this generally prohibited under 
severe penalties were rejected by eminent Catholic theo 
logians, for instance, in a memorandum of the Law and 
Divinity Faculties at Ingolstadt, dated August 2, 1580, 
which bore the signatures of all the professors. 3 On the 
Protestant side the contest led to disagreeable proceedings 
at Ratisbon, where, in 1588, five preachers, true to Luther s 
injunctions, insisted firmly on the prohibition on theological 
grounds. They were expelled from the town by the magis 
trates, though this did not end the controversy. 4 

There was naturally no question at any time of enforcing 
the severe measures which Luther had advocated against 
those who charged interest ; on the contrary the social 
disorders of the day promoted not merely the lending at 

1 " Luthers Theol. in ihrer geschichtl. Entwicklung," 2 2 , 1901, p. 328. 

2 Kostlin- Kawerau, 1, p. 331, quotes G. Schmoller (" Zur Gesch. 
der nationaldkonomischen Ansichten in Deutschland wahrend der 
Reformperiode," in the " Zeitschr. f. die gesamte Staatswissen- 
schaft," 16). 

3 From the Munich Kreisarchiv, in B. Dulir, " Zeitschr. f. kath 
Theol.," 1905, 29, p. 180. 

4 Duhr, ib., 1908, 32, p. 609. Cp. 1900, 24, pp. 208 f., 210, on Eck. 

VI. B 


moderate interest, but even actual usury of the worst 
character. When even Martin Bucer showed himself dis 
posed to admit the lawfulness of taking twelve per cent 
interest George Lauterbecken, the Mansfeld councillor, wrote 
of him in his " Regent enbuch " : " What has become of 
the book Dr. Luther of blessed memory addressed to the 
ministers on the subject of usury, exhorting them most 
earnestly," etc., etc. ? Nobody now dreamt, so he com 
plains, of putting in force the penalties decreed by Luther. 
" Where do we see in any of our countries which claim to 
be Evangelical anyone refused the Sacrament of the altar 
or Holy Baptism on account of usury ? Where, agreeably 
to the Canons, are they forbidden to make a will ? Where 
do we see one of them buried on the dungheap ? n 

1 G. Scherer, " Drey unterschiedliche Predigten vom Geitz," etc., 
Ingolstadt, 1605, p. 57 f. 



THE struggles of conscience which we already had occasion 
to consider (vol. v., p. 319 ff.) were not the only gloomy 
elements in Luther s interior life. Other things, too, must 
be taken into our purview if we wish to appreciate justly the 
more sombre side of his existence, viz. his bodily ailments 
and the mental sufferings to which they gave rise (e.g. 
paroxysms of terror and apprehension), his temptations, 
likewise his delusions concerning his intercourse with the 
other world (ghosts, diabolical apparitions, etc.), and, lastly, 
the revelations of which he fancied himself the recipient. 

1. Early Sufferings, Bodily and Mental 

It is no easy task to understand the nature of the morbid 
phenomena which we notice in Luther. His own state 
ments on the subject are not only very scanty but also 
prove that he was himself unable to determine exactly their 
cause. Nevertheless, it is our duty to endeavour, with the 
help of what he says, to glean some notion of what was 
going on within him. His gloomy mental experiences are so 
inextricably bound up with his state of health, that, even 
more than his " agonies of conscience " already dealt with, 
they deserve to take their place on the darker background 
of his psychic life. Here again, duly to appreciate the state 
of the case, we shall have to review anew the whole of 
Luther s personal history. 

Fits of Fear ; Palpitations ; Swoons 

What first claims our attention, even in the early days of 
Luther s life as a monk, are the attacks of what he himself 
calls fears and trepidations (" terrores, pavores "). It seems 



fairly clear that these were largely neurotic, physical 
breakdowns due to nervous worry. 

According to Melanchthon, the friend in whom he chiefly 
confided, Luther gave these sufferings a place in the fore 
front of his soul s history. The reader may remember the 
significant passage where Melanchthon says, that, when 
oppressed with gloomy thoughts of the Divine Judgments, 
Luther " was often suddenly overwhelmed by such fits of 
terror ( subito tanti terror es ) " as made him an object of 
pity. These terrors he had experienced for the first time 
when he decided to enter the monastic life, led to this resolu 
tion by the sudden death of a dearly loved friend. 1 

We hear from Luther himself of the strange paroxysms of fear 
from which he suffered as a monk. On two occasions when he 
speaks of them his words do not seem to come under suspicion 
of forming part of the legend which he afterwards wove about 
his earlier history (see below, xxxvii.). These statements, 
already alluded to once, may be given more in detail here. In 
March, 1537, he told his friends : " When I was saying Mass [his 
first Mass] and had reached the Canon, such terror seized on me 
(ita horrui) that I should have fled had not the Prior held me 
back ; for when I came to the words, Thee, therefore, most 
merciful Father, we suppliantly pray and entreat, etc., I felt 
that I was speaking to God without any mediator. I longed to 
flee from the earth. For who can endure the Majesty of God 
without Christ the Mediator ? In short, as a monk I experienced 
those terrors (horrores) ; I was made to experience them before 
I began to assail them." 2 Incidentally it may be noted that 
" Christ the Mediator," whom Luther declares he could not find 
in the Catholic ritual, is, as a matter of fact, invoked in the very 
words which follow those quoted by Luther : " Thee, therefore, 
most merciful Father, we suppliantly pray and entreat through 
Jesus Christ Thy Son our Lord to accept and bless these gifts," 
etc. Evidently when Luther recorded his impressions he had 
forgotten these words and only remembered the groundless fear 
and inward commotion with which he had said his first Mass. 

Something similar occurred during a procession at Erfurt, 
when he had to walk by the side of Staupitz, his superior, who 
was carrying the Blessed Sacrament. Fear arid terror so mastered 

1 " Corp. ref.," 6, p. 158. " Vitap reformatorum," ed. Neander, p. 5. 
See above, vol. i., p. 17. 

2 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 405. Cp. " Opp. lat. exeg.," 6, 
p. 158 : " Totus slupebam et cohorrescebam. . . . Tanta maiestas 
(Dei)," etc. ; Schlaginhaufen, " Aufzeichn.," p. 89 : "I thought of 
fleeing from the altar ... so terrified was I," etc. (1532) ; Lauter- 
bach, " Tagebuch," p. 186: "fere mcrrlii-us essem " ; ;i Colloq.," ed. 
Bindseil, 1, p. 119; 3, p. 169; " Werke," Erl. ed., 60, p. 400. See 
above, vol. i., p. 15 f. 


Luther that he was hardly able to remain. Telling Staupitz of 
this later in Confession, the latter encouraged him with the 
words : " Christ does not affright, He comforts." The incident 
must have taken place after 1515, the Eisleben priory having 
been founded only in that year. 1 

If we go back to the very beginning of his life in the monastery 
we shall find that the religious scruples which assailed him at 
least for a while, possibly also deserve to be reckoned as morbid. 
We shall return below to the voice " from heaven " which 
drove him into the cloister. 

Unspeakable fear issuing in bodily prostration was also at 
work in him on the occasion of the already related incident in 
the choir of the Erfurt convent, when he fell to the ground 
crying out that he was not the man possessed. Not only does 
Dungersheim relate it, on the strength of what he had heard from 
inmates of the monastery, 2 but Cochlaeus also speaks of the 
incident, in his " Acta," and, again, in coarse and unseemly 
language in the book he wrote in 1533, entitled " Von der 
Apostasey," doubtless also drawing his information from the 
Augustinian monks : " It is notorious how Luther came to be 
a monk ; how he collapsed in choir, bellowing like a bull when 
the Gospel of the man possessed was being read ; how he behaved 
himself in the monastery," etc. 3 We may recall, how, according 
to Cochlaeus, his brother monks suspected Luther, owing to this 
attack and on account of a " certain singularity of manner," of 
being either under diabolical influence or an epileptic. 4 The 
convulsions which accompanied the fit may have given rise to the 
suspicion of epilepsy, but, in reality, they cannot be regarded as 
sufficient proof. Epilepsy is well-nigh incurable, yet, in Luther s 
case, we hear of no similar fits in later life. In later years he 
manifested no fear of epileptic fits, though he lived in dread of an 
apoplectic seizure, such as, in due course, was responsible for his 
death. A medical diagnosis would not fail to consider this 
seeming instance of epileptic convulsions in conjunction with 
Luther s state of fear. For the purpose of the present work it will 
be sufficient to bring together for the benefit of the expert the 
necessary data for forming an opinion on the whole question, so 
far as this is possible. 

From the beginning Luther seems to have regarded these 
" states of terror " as partaking to some extent of a mystic 

To what a height they could sometimes attain appears from 
the description he embodied in his " Resolutiones " in 1518, and 
of which Kostlin opines that, in it Luther portrayed the culmin 
ating point to which his own fears had occasionally risen. It is 
indeed very probable that Luther is referring to no other than 

1 Erl. ed., 58, p. 140 ; cp. 60, p. 129. Of his " territtis " we hear also 
from Cordatus, " Tagebuch," p. 95, and " Colloquia," ed. Bindseil, 2, 
p. 292. 2 See above, vol. i., p. 16 f. 

3 Mainz, 1549, Bl. B. 8a. The book was written in Latin in 1533. 

4 " Acta Lutheri," p. 1. 


himself when he says in the opening words of this remarkable 
passage : "I know a man who assures me that he has frequently 
felt these pains." 1 G. Kawerau also agrees with Kostlin in 
assuming that Luther is here speaking of himself, 2 a view which is, 
in fact, forced upon us by other similar passages. Walter Kohler 
declares : " Whether Luther intended these words to refer to 
himself or not, in any case they certainly depict his normal 
state." 3 

Luther, after saying that, " many, even to the present day," 
suffer the pangs of hell so often described in the Psalms of David, 
and [so Luther thinks], by Tauler, goes on to describe these pangs 
in words which we shall now quote in full, as hitherto only 
extracts have been given.* 

" He often had to endure such pains, though in every instance 
they were but momentary ; they were, however, so great and so 
hellish that no tongue can tell, no pen describe, no one who has 
not felt them believe what they were. When at their worst, or 
when they lasted for half an hour, nay, for the tenth part of an 
hour, he was utterly undone, and all his bones turned to ashes. 
At such times God and the whole of creation appears to him 
dreadfully wroth. There is, however, no escape, no consolation 
either within or without, and man is ringed by a circle of accusers. 
He then tearfully exclaims in the words of Holy Scripture : * I am 
cast away, O Lord, from before Thy eyes [Ps. xxx. 23], and does 
not even dare to say : Lord, chastise me not in Thy wrath 
[Ps. vi. 1]. At such a time the soul, strange to tell, is unable to 
believe that it ever will be saved ; it only feels that the punish 
ment is not yet at an end. And yet the punishment is everlasting 
and may not be regarded as temporal ; there remains only a 
naked longing for help and a dreadful groaning ; where to look 
for help the soul does not know. It is as it were stretched out 
[on the cross] with Christ, so that * all its bones are numbered. 
There is not a nook in it that is not filled with the bitterest 
anguish, with terror, dread and sadness, and above all with the 
feeling that it is to last for ever and ever. To make use of a 
weaker comparison : when a ball travels along a straight line, 
every point of the line bears the whole weight of the ball, though 
it does not contain it. In the same way, when the floods of 
eternity pass over the soul, it feels nothing else, drinks in nothing 
else but everlasting pain ; this, however, does not last but 
passes. It is the very pain of hell, is this unbearable terror, that 
excludes all consolation ! ... As to what it means, those who 
have experienced it must be believed." 5 

1 What Denifle urges to the contrary (" Luther und Luthertum," 
1, p. 726, n. 2) is not convincing. 

2 Cp. Kawerau, " Deutsch-evang. Bl.," 1906, p. 447 : " What 
anguish of soul he went through in the monastery is related by himself 
as early as 1518 in the touching account contained in the Resolu- 
tiones to his 95 Theses." 

3 " Ein Wort zu Denifles Luther," p. 30. 
* See above, vol. i., p. 381 f. 

6 Weim. ed., 1, p. 557 f. ; " Opp. lat. var.," 2, p. 180 sq. 


A physical accompaniment of these fears was, in Luther s 
case, the fainting fits referred to now and again subsequent 
to the beginning of his struggle against the Church. 

On the occasion of the attack of which we are told by 
Ratzeberger the physician, when he was found by friends 
lying unconscious on the floor, he had been " overpowered 
by melancholy and sadness." It is also very remarkable 
that when his friends had brought him to, partly by the help 
of music, he begged them to return frequently, that they 
might play to him " because he found that as soon as he 
heard the sound of music his l tentationes and melancholy 
left him." 1 According to Kawerau the circumstances point 
to this incident having taken place in 1523 or 1524. 2 

On the occasion of a serious attack of illness in 1527 his 
swoons again caused great anxiety to those about him. 
This illness was preceded by a fit in Jan., 1527. Luther 
informs a friend that he had " suddenly been affrighted and 
almost killed by a rush or thickening of the blood in the 
region of the heart," but had as quickly recovered. His 
cure was, he thinks, due to a decoction of milk-thistle, 3 then 
considered a very efficacious remedy. The rush of blood to 
the heart, of which he here had to complain, occurred at a 
time when Luther had nothing to say of " temptations," but 
only of the many troubles and anxieties due to his labours. 

The more severe bout of illness began on July 6, 1527, at 
the very time of, or just after, some unusually severe 
" temptation." 4 Jonas prefaces his account of it by saying 
that Luther, " after having that morning, as he admitted, 
suffered from a burdensome spiritual temptation, came back 
partially to himself ( utcunque ad se rediit )." The words 
seem to presuppose that he had either fainted or been on the 
verge of fainting. 5 Having, as the same friend relates, 
recovered somewhat, Luther made his confession and spoke 
of his readiness for death. In the afternoon, however, he 

1 See above, vol. ii., p. 170. 

2 " Etwas vom kranken Luther " (" Deutsch-evang. Bl.," 29, 1904, 
p. 303 ff.), p. 305. 

3 To Spalatin, Jan. 13, 1527, " Brief wechsel," 6, p. 12 : "me subito 
sanguinis coagulo circum prcecordia angustiatum pceneque exanimatum 

4 Cp. vol. v., p. 333, above, and Kostlin- Kawerau, 2, p. 168. 

5 " Briefwechsel des Jonas," ed. Kawerau, 1, p. 104 ff. ; also 
" Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 3, p. 160 sqq. Cp. Bugenhagen s account in 
his " Briefe," ed. Vogt, p. 64 ff. 


complained of an unendurable buzzing in his left ear which 
soon grew into a frightful din in his head. Bugenhagen, 
in his narrative, is of opinion that the cause of the mischief 
here emerges plainly, viz. that it was the work of the devil. 
A fainting fit ensued which overtook Luther at the door of 
his bedchamber. When laid on his bed he complained of 
being utterly exhausted. His body was rubbed with cloths 
wrung out of cold water and then warmth was applied. The 
patient now felt a little better, but his strength came and 
went. Amongst other remarks he then passed was one, 
that Christ is stronger than Satan. When saying this he 
burst into tears and sobs. Finally, after application of the 
remedies common at that time, he broke out into a sweat 
and the danger was considered to be over. 

There followed, however, the days and months of dread 
ful spiritual " temptations " already described (vol. v., 
p. 333 ff.). At first the bodily weakness also persisted. 
Bugenhagen was obliged to take up his abode in Luther s 
house for a while because the latter was in such dread of 
the temptations and wished to have help and comfort at 
hand. For a whole week Luther was unable either to read 
or to write. 

At the end of August and again in September the fainting 
fits recurred. 

His friends, however, were more concerned about Luther s 
mental anguish than about his bodily sufferings. The latter 
gradually passed away, whereas the struggles of conscience 
continued to be very severe. On Oct. 17, Jonas wrote to 
Johann Lang : " He is battling amidst the waves of temp 
tation and is hardly able to find any passage of Scripture 
wherewith to console himself." 1 

In 1530 again we hear of Luther s life being endangered 
by a fainting fit, though it seems to have been distinct from 
the above attack of illness. This also occurred after an 
alarming incident during which he believed he had actually 
seen the devil. It was followed the next day by a loud 
buzzing in the head. Renewed trouble in the region of the 
heart, accompanied by paroxysms of fear, is reported to have 
been experienced in 1536. 2 After this we hear no more of 

1 " Briefwechsel des Jonas," 1, p. 109 : " in illis undie tenta- 
tionum." Cp. above, vol. v., pp. 334, 339. 

2 " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 1, p. 200, where we read (under Dec. 19, 
1536) : " Eo die Lutherus magno paroxyamo angustia circa pectus 


any such symptoms till just before Luther s death. In the 
sudden attack of illness which brought his life to a close 
he complained chiefly of feeling a great oppression on the 
chest, though his heart was sound. 1 

Nervousness and other Ailments 

Quite a number of Luther s minor ills seem to have been 
the result of overwrought nerves due partly to his work and 
the excitement of his life. Here again it is difficult to 
judge of the symptoms ; unquestionably some sort of 
connection exists between his nervous state and his depres 
sion and bodily fears ; 2 the fainting fits are even reckoned 
by some as simply due to neurasthenia. 

There can be no doubt that his nervousness was, to some 
extent inherited, to some extent due to his upbringing. His 
lively temper which enabled him to be so easily carried away 
by his fancy, to take pleasure in the most glaring of exaggera 
tions, and bitterly to resent the faintest opposition, proves 
that, for all the vigour of his constitution, nerves played an 
important part. 

Already in his monastic days his state was aggravated by 
mental overstrain and the haste and turmoil of his work 
which led him to neglect the needs of the body. His un 
interrupted literary labours, his anxiety for his cause, his 
carelessness about his health and his irregular mode of life 
reduced him in those days to a mere skeleton. At Worms 
the wretchedness of his appearance aroused pity in many. 
It is true that when he returned from the Wartburg he was 
looking much stronger, but the years 1522-25, during which 
he led a lonely bachelor s life in the Wittenberg monastery, 
without anyone to wait on him, and sleeping night after 
night on an unmade bed, brought his nervous state to such 
a pitch that he was never afterwards able completely to 
master it. On the contrary, his nervousness grew ever 
more pronounced, tormenting him in various ways. 

decubuit" The dates given in the Table-Talk are not as a rule alto 
gether reliable, but here they may be trusted because they happen to 
coincide with a portent in the sky looked upon as a bad omen. 

1 Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 622 f. 

2 We may here call attention to what will be said in the next 
chapter concerning similar phenomena in Luther s early days. This 
chapter, no less than the present one, is important for forming a just 
opinion on Luther s pathological dispositions. 


So little, however, did he understand it that it was to the 
devil that he attributed the effects, now dubiously, now 
with entire conviction. 

Among these effects must be included the buzzing in the 
head and singing in the ears, to which Luther s letters 
allude for many a year. When, at the end of Jan., 1529, the 
violent " agonies and temptations " recurred, the buzzing 
in the ears again made itself felt. He writes : " For more 
than a week I have been ailing from dizziness and humming 
in the head ( vertigo et bombus ), whether this be due to 
fatigue or to the malice of the devil I do not know. Pray 
for me that I may be strong in the faith." 1 He also com 
plains of this trouble in the head in the next letter, dating 
from early in Feb. 2 He was then unable to preach or to give 
lectures for nearly three weeks. 3 

He goes on to say of himself : " In addition to the buffets 
of the angel of Satan [the temptations] I have also suffered 
from giddiness and headache." 4 It was, however, as he 
himself points out, no real illness : " Almost constantly is 
it my fate to feel ill though my body is well." 5 

In the new kind of life he had to lead in the Castle of 
Coburg in 1530, when, to want of exercise, was added over 
work and anxiety of mind, these neurasthenic phenomena 
again reappeared. He compares the noises in his head to 
thunder, or to a whirlwind. There was also present a 
tendency to fainting. At times he was unable even to look 
at any writing, or to bear the light owing to the weakness of 
his head. 6 Simultaneously the struggle with his thoughts 
gave him endless trouble ; thus he writes : " It is the angel 
of Satan who buffets me so, but since I have endured death 
so often for Christ, I am quite ready for His sake to suffer 
this illness, or this Sabbath-peace of the head." 7 " You 
declare," he says laughingly in a letter to Melanchthon, 
" that I am pig-headed, but my pig-headedness is nothing 

1 To Johann Hess at Breslau, Jan. 31, 1529, " Brief wechsel," 7, 
p. 50. 

8 To Johann Agricola, Feb. 1, 1529, ib., p. 51. 
3 Enders, ib., p. 54, n. 3. 

* To Nicholas Hausmann at Zwickau, Feb. 13, 1529, ib., p. 63. 

* To the same, March 3, 1529, ib., p. 61 : "fere assidue cogor sanus 

* To Melanchthon, Aug. 1, 1530, ib., 8, p. 162 : " ut neque tuto 
legere litteras passim nequc lucem ferre " common symptoms of 
neurasthenia. 7 Ib. 


compared with that of my head ( caput eigensinnigis- 
simum ) j 1 so powerfully does Satan compel me to make 
holiday and to waste my time." 1 Towards the middle of 
August his head improved, but the tiresome buzzing fre 
quently recurred. Luther complained later that, during 
this summer, he had been forced to waste half his time. 2 

When, from this time onwards, " we hear him ever saying 
that he feels worn-out ( decrepitus ), weary of life and 
desirous of death ... all this is undoubtedly closely bound 
up with these nerve troubles." 3 The morning hours became 
for him the worst, because during them he often suffered 
from dizziness. After his " prandium," between nine and ten 
o clock, he was wont to feel better. As a rule he slept well. 

The attacks which occurred early in 1532 must also be 

In Jan., so his anxious pupil Veit Dietrich writes, Luther 
had a foreboding of some illness impending and fancied it 
would come in March ; in reality it came on on Jan. 22. 
" Very early, about four o clock, he felt a violent buzzing in 
his ears followed by great weakness of the heart." His 
friends were summoned at his request as he did not wish to 
be alone. " When, however, he had recovered and had his 
wits about him ( confirmato animo ), he proceeded to storm 
against the Papists, who were not yet to make gay over 
his death." " Were Satan able," he says, " he would 
gladly kill me ; at every hour he is at my heels." " The 
physician declared," so the account goes on, " after having 
examined the urine, that Luther stood in danger of an 
attack of apoplexy, which indeed he would hardly escape." 
The prediction was, however, not immediately verified and 
the patient was once more able to leave his bed. On Feb. 9, 
however (if the date given in the Notes be correct), 4 after 
assisting at a funeral in the church of Torgau, he was again 
seized with such a fit of giddiness as hardly to be able to 
return to his lodgings. When he recovered he said : " Do 
not be grieved even should I die, but continue to further 

1 Aug. 3, 1530, ib., 8, p. 166. Cp. above, vol. v., p. 346. 

s To Hans Honolcl at Augsburg, Oct. 2, 1530, Erl. ed., 54, p. 196 
(" Briefwechsel," 8, p. 275). 

8 Kawerau, " Etwas vom kranken Luther," p. 313. 

4 Dietrich s Latin account, ed. Seidemann, " Sachs. Kirchen- und 
Schulblatt," 1876, p. 355. Cp. Kuchenmeister, " Luthers Kranken - 
gesch.," p. 71 ; Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 264 ; Kawerau, " Etwas vom 
kranken Luther," p. 314. 


the Word of God after my death. ... It may be we are 
still sinners and do not perform our duty sufficiently ; if so 
we shall cloak it over with the forgiveness of sins." This 
time again he was not able to work for a whole month. 

What he at times endured from the trouble in his head 
we learn from a statement in the Notes of the Table-Talk 
made by Cordatus : " When I awake and am unable to sleep 
again on account of the noise in my ears, I often fancy I can 
hear the bells of Halle, Leipzig, Erfurt and Wittenberg, and 
then I think : Surely you are going to have a fit. But God 
frequently intervenes and gives me a short sleep after 
wards." 1 

No notable improvement took place until the middle 
of 1533. 

The noises in the head began again in 1541. He fancied 
then that he could hear " the rustling of all the trees and 
the breaking of the waves of every sea " in his head. 2 When 
he wrote this he was also suffering from a discharge from the 
ear, which, for the time, deprived him of his hearing ; so 
great was the pain as to force tears from him. Alluding to 
this he says that his friends did not often see him in tears, 
but that now he would gladly weep even more copiously ; 
to God he had said : " Let there be an end either of these 
pains or of me myself," but, now that the discharge had 
ceased, he was beginning to read and write again quite 
confidently. 3 

From the commencement of his struggle, however, until 
the end of his life his extreme nervous irritability found 
expression in the violence of what he said and wrote. There 
can be no question that, had he not been in a morbidly 
nervous state, he would never have given way to such out 
bursts of anger and brutal invective. " There was a 
demoniacal trait," says a Protestant Luther biographer, 
" that awakened in him as soon as he met an adversary, at 
which even his fellow-monks had shuddered, and which 
carried him much further than he had at first intended." 
He became the " rudest writer of his age." In his contro 
versy with the Swiss Sacramentarians he " was domineering 
and high-handed." " His disputatiousness and tendency to 

1 Cordatus, " Tagebuch," p. 125. 

3 To Melanchthon, April 12, 1541, " Brief wechsel," 13, p. 300. 

3 Ib 


pick a quarrel grew ever stronger in him after his many 
triumphs." 1 But, even among his friends and in his home, 
he was careless about controlling his irritation. We find 
him exclaiming : " I am bursting with anger and annoy 
ance " ; as we know, he excited himself almost " to death " 
about a nephew and threatened to have a servant-maid 
" drowned in the Elbe." 2 (Cp. the passages from A. Cramer 
quoted below, towards the end of section 5.) 

Other maladies and indispositions, of which the effects 
were sometimes lasting, also deserve to be alluded to. Of 
these the principal and worst was calculus of which we first 
hear in 1526 and then again in 1535, 1536 and 1545. In 
Feb., 1537, Luther was overtaken by so severe an attack 
at Schmalkalden that his end seemed near. In 1525 he had 
to complain of painful haemorrhoids, and at the beginning 
of 1528 similar troubles recurred. The " malum Francice," 
on the other hand, cursorily mentioned in 1523, 3 is not 
heard of any more. The severe constipation from which he 
suffered in the Wartburg also passed away. Luther was 
also much subject to catarrh, which, when it lasted, caused 
acute mental depression. The " discharge in his left leg " 
which continued for a considerable while 4 during 1533 had 
no important after-effects. 

The maladies just mentioned, to which must be added 
an attack of the " English Sweat," in 1529, do not afford 
sufficient grounds for any diagnosis of his physical and 
mental state in general. 5 On the other hand, the oppression 
in the praecordial region and his nervous excitability are 
of great importance to whoever would investigate his 
general state of health. 

The so-called Temptations no Mere Morbid Phenomena 

Anyone who passes in review the startling admissions 
Luther makes concerning his struggles of conscience (above, 
vol. v., pp. 31975), or considers the dreadful self-reproaches 
to which his apostasy and destruction of the olden ecclesi 
astical system gave rise, reproaches which lead to " death 

Hausrath, " Luthers Leben," 2, 1904, pp. 189, 223, 226. 
Cp. above vol. v., pp. 107-10, and vol. iv., p. 284 ff. 
See vol. ii., p. 163, n. 3. 
KOstlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 268. 

On uric acid and gout as the explanation of all his bodily troubles, 
see below, xxxvi. 5. 


and hell," and which he succeeded in mastering only by 
dint of huge effort, cannot fail to see that these mental 
struggles were something very different from any physical 
malady. Since, however, some Protestants have repre 
sented mere morbid " fearfulness " as the root-cause of the 
" temptations," we must in order not to be accused of 
evading any difficulties look into the actual connection 
between natural timidity and the never-ending struggles 
of soul which Luther had to wage with himself on account 
of his apostasy. 

Luther s temptations, according to his own accurate and 
circumstantial statements, consisted chiefly of remorse of 
conscience and doubts about his undertaking ; they made 
their appearance only at the commencement of his apostasy, 
whereas the morbid sense of fear was present in him long 
before. Of such a character were the " terrores " which led 
him to embrace monasticism, the unrest he experienced 
during his first zealous years of religious life, and the dread 
of which he was the victim while saying his first Mass and 
accompanying Staupitz in the procession ; this morbid fear 
is also apparent in the monk s awful thoughts on pre 
destination and in his subsequent temptations to despair. 
Moreover, such crises, characterised by temptations and 
disquieting palpitations ending in fainting fits, were in every 
case preceded by " spiritual temptations," and only after 
wards did the physical symptoms follow. Likewise the 
bodily ailments occasionally disappeared, leaving behind 
them the temptations, though Luther seemed outwardly 
quite sound and able to carry on his work. 1 

Hence the " spiritual temptations " or struggles of con 
science were of a character in many respects independent 
of this morbid state of fear. 

They occur, however, on the one hand, in connection with 
other physical disorders, as in the case of the attack of the 
" English Sweat " or influenza which Luther had in 1529, and 
which was accompanied by severe mental struggles ; on the 
other hand, they appear at times to excite the bodily emotion 
of fear and in very extreme cases undoubtedly tended to 
produce entire loss of sleep and appetite, cardiac disturbance 
and fainting fits. Luther himself once said, in 1533, that 
his " gloomy thoughts and temptations " were the cause of 

1 Cp. above, vol. v., 333 ff. 


the trouble in his head and stomach j 1 in his ordinary 
language the temptations were, however, " buffets given 
him by Satan." 2 He is fond of clothing the temptations in 
this Pauline figure and of depicting them as his worst trials, 
and only quite exceptionally does he call his purely physical 
sufferings " colaphi Satance," they, too, coming from Satan. 
Now we cannot of course entirely trust Luther s own 
diagnosis otherwise we should have to reduce all his 
maladies to a work of evil spirits yet his feeling that the 
"temptations" were on the one hand a malady in them 
selves and on the other a source of many other ills, should 
carry some weight with us. 

It is also clear that, in the case of an undertaking like 
Luther s, and given his antecedents, remorse of conscience 
was perfectly natural even had there been no ailment 
present. It was impossible that a once zealous monk should 
become faithless to his most solemn vows and, on his own 
authority and on alleged discoveries in the Bible, dare to 
overthrow the whole ecclesiastical structure of the past 
without in so doing experiencing grave misgivings. Add to 
this his violence, his " wild-beast fury " (J. von Walther), 
his practical contradictions and the theological mistakes 
which he was unable to hide. Hence we need have no 
scruple about admitting what is otherwise fairly evident, 
viz. that his ghostly combats stand apart and cannot be 
attributed directly to any bodily ailment. 

It remains, however, true that such struggles and tempta 
tions throve exceedingly on the morbid fear which lay hidden 
in the depths of his soul. It must also be granted that 
neurasthenia sometimes gives rise to symptoms of fear 
similar to those experienced by Luther, as we shall hear 
later on from an expert in nervous diseases, whom we shall 
have occasion to quote (see section 5 below). Consideration 
for such facts oblige the layman to leave the question open 

1 Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 268. 

2 For the different passages quoted cp. " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 2, 
p. 315 : Other temptations were nothing compared with this interior 
" angelus Sathance colaphizans, <r/c6Xoi/ ," where a man is nailed to the 
gibbet. Cp. " Brief wechsel," 7, p. 53 : " Ego vertigine seu capite 
hactenus laboravi, prceter ea quce angelus Sathance operatur. Tu ora pro 
me Deum, ut confortet me in fide et verbo suo " (to N. Hausmann, Feb. 13, 
1529). The " sting of the flesh " was not in his case, as has been 
asserted, the result of nervousness, but an intellectual temptation to 
waver in the " faith " he preached, and to doubt of the " Word." 


as to how much of Luther s fear is to be attributed to 
nervousness or to other physical drawbacks. 

We do not think it desirable here to enter further into the 
views of the older Catholic polemics, already referred to, 
who looked upon Luther as possessed (as labouring under an 
" obsessio " or at least a " circumsessio "). The fits of terror 
he endured both before and after his apostasy seemed to 
them to prove that he was really a demoniac. As already 
pointed out above (vol. iv., p. 359), this field is too obscure 
and too beset with the danger of error to allow of our 
venturing upon it. 1 Quite another matter is it, however, 
with regard to temptations, with which, according to Holy 
Scripture and the constant teaching of the Church, the devil 
is allowed to assail men, and to discuss which in Luther s 
case we will now proceed, using his own testimonies. 

2. Psychic Problems of Luther s Religious Development 

From the beginning of his apostasy and public struggle 
we find in Luther no peace of soul and clearness of outlook ; 
rather, he is the plaything of violent emotions. He himself 
complains of having to wrestle with gloomy temptations of 
the spirit. It is these that we now propose to investigate 
more narrowly. In so doing we must also examine how 
his nervous state reacted on these temptations, whereby we 
shall, maybe, discern more clearly than before the con 
nection of Luther s doctrine with his distress of soul. 

Temptations to Despair 

As to the temptations admitted by Luther to be such, we 
must first of all recall the involuntary thoughts of despair 
which occurred to him in the convent and the inclination he 
felt, against his will, to abandon all hope of his salvation 
and even to blaspheme God. Everybody in the least 
acquainted with the spiritual life knows that such darkening 
of the soul may be caused by the Spirit of Evil and often 
accompanies certain morbid conditions of the body. When 
the two, as is often the case, are united, the effects are all 

1 Cp. the numerous statements of contemporaries who were unable 
to explain Luther s uncanny behaviour, his " infernal outbreaks of 
fury" and morbid hatred of the Pope (above, vol. v., p. 232 f.), other 
wise than by supposing him to be possessed or mad (vol. iv., p. 351 ff.). 


the more far-reaching. Now, on his own showing, this was 
precisely the case with the unhappy inmate of the Erfurt 
monastery. Luther felt himself compelled, as he says, to 
lay bare his temptations (the " horrendce et terrificce cogita- 
tiones") to Staupitz in confession. 1 The latter comforted 
him by pointing out the value of such temptations as a 
mental discipline. Staupitz, and others too, had, however, 
also told him that his case was to some extent new to them 
and beyond their comprehension. 2 Hence, understood by 
none, he passed his days sunk in sadness. All to whom he 
applied for consolation had answered him : " I do not 
know." 3 His fancy must, indeed, have strayed into strange 
bypaths for both Pollich, the Wittenberg professor, and 
Cardinal Cajetan expressed amazement at the oddness of 
his thoughts. 

His theological system finally became the pivot around 
which his thoughts revolved ; to it he looked for help. He 
had created it under the influence of other factors to which 
it is not here needful to refer again ; particularly it had 
grown out of his own relaxation in the virtues of his Order 
and religious life. 4 His system, however, had for its aim 
to combat despair, overmastering concupiscence and the 
consciousness of sin by means of a self-imposed tranquillity. 
He was determined to arrive by main force at peace and 
certainty. Only little by little, so he wrote in 1525, had he 
discovered, " God leads down to hell those whom He 
predestines to heaven, and makes alive by slaying " ; 
whoever had read his writings " would understand this now 
very well " ; a man must learn to despair utterly of him 
self, and allow himself to be helplessly saved by the action 
of God, i.e. by virtue of the forgiveness won by fiducial 
faith. 5 How he himself was led by God down to hell he sets 
forth in his " Resolutiones" in the account of his mental 
sufferings given above (p. 101 f.), a passage which transports 
the reader into the midst of the pains which Luther endured 
in his anxiety. 

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

2 Schlaginhaufen, " Aufzeichn.," p. 9, of Staupitz : " dicebat, ge 
nunquam sensisse" 

* Cordatus, " Tagebuch," p. 129. 

4 See vol. i., pp. 120 ff., 223 ff., 269 ft . 

6 Weim. ed., 18, p. 633 ; " Opp. lat. var.," 7, p. 154. 

VI. I 


The man most deeply initiated into the darker side of Luther s 
temptations and struggles was the friend of his youth, the 
Augustinian, Johann Lang. He, too, apparently suffered 
severely beneath the burden of temptations regarding predestina 
tion and the forgiveness of sins. It was in a letter to him, that, 
not long after the nailing up of the Wittenberg Theses, Luther 
penned those curious words : They would pray earnestly for one 
another, " that our Lord Jesus may help us to bear our tempta 
tions which no one save us two has ever been through." 1 Shortly 
before this Luther had commended to the care of his friend, then 
prior at Erfurt, a young man, Ulrich Finder of Nuremberg, who 
had opened his heart to him at Wittenberg ; on this occasion he 
wrote that Finder was "troubled with secret temptations of soul 
which hardly anyone in the monastery with the exception of 
yourself understands." 2 He also alludes to the temptations 
peculiar to himself in that letter to Lang, in 1516, in which he 
describes his overwhelming labours, which " seldom leave him 
due time for reciting the hours or saying Mass." On the top of 
his labours, he says, there were " his own temptations from the 
world, the flesh and the devil." 3 To this same recipient of his 
confidences Luther was wont regularly to give an account of the 
success attending his attacks on the ancient Church and doctrine ; 
he kindled in him a burning hatred of those Augustinians at 
Erfurt who were well disposed towards scholasticism and 
Aristotle, and forwarded him the controversial Theses for the 
Disputations at the Wittenberg University embodying his new 
doctrine of the necessity of despairing of ourselves and of mysti 
cally dying, viz. the new " Theology of the Cross." 

Some mysterious words addressed to Staupitz, in which Luther 
hints at his inward sufferings, find their explanation when taken 
in conjunction with the above. He assured Staupitz (Sep. 1, 
1518) in a letter addressed to him at Salzburg, that the summons 
to Rome and the other threats made not the slightest impression 
on him : " I am enduring incomparably worse things, as you 
know, which make me look upon such fleeting, shortlived thunders 
as very insignificant." 4 His temptations against God and His 
Mercy were of a vastly different character. By the words just 
quoted he undoubtedly meant, says Kostlin, " those personal, 
inward sufferings and temptations, probably bound up with 
physical emotions, to which Staupitz already knew him to be 
subject and which frequently came upon him later with renewed 
violence. They were temptations in which, as at an earlier date, 
he was plunged into anxiety concerning his personal salvation as 
soon as he started pondering on the hidden depths of the Divine 
Will." 6 

Nov. 11, 1517, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 126. 
July 16, 1517, ib., p. 102. 

Oct. 26, 1516, ib., p. 67 : " prceter propriaa tentationea cum came 
mundo et diabolo" Cp. above, vol. i., p. 275. 
" Brief wechsel," 1. p. 223. 
Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 196. 


The Shadow of Pseudo-Mysticism 

In this connection it will be necessary to return to Luther s 
earlier predilection for a certain kind of mysticism. 1 

As we know, at an early date he felt drawn to the writings of 
the mystics, for one reason, because he seemed to himself to find 
there his pet ideas about spiritual death and wholesome despair. 
Their description of the desolation of the soul and of its apparent 
abandonment by God appeared to him a startling echo of his own 
experiences. He did not, however, understand or appreciate 
aright the great mystics, particularly Tauler, when he read into 
them his own peculiar doctrine of passivity. 

To a certain extent throughout his whole life he stood under 
the shadow of this dim, sad mysticism. 

He will have it that he, like the mystics, had frequently been 
plunged in the abyss of the spirit, had been acquainted with 
death and with states weird and unearthly. He refuses to relate 
all he has been through and actually gives as his ground for 
silence the very words used by St. Paul when speaking of his own 
revelations : " But I forbear, lest any man should think of me 
above that which he seeth in me, or anything he heareth from 
me " (2 Cor. xii. 6). When speaking thus of the mystic death 
he fails to distinguish between such thoughts and feelings as may 
have been the result solely of a morbid state of fear, or of remorse 
of conscience, and the severe trials through which the souls of 
certain great and holy men had really to pass. 

It is indeed curious to note how he was led astray by a com 
bination of fear, mysticism and temptation. 

He was deluded into seeing in his own states just what he 
desired, viz. the proof of the truth of his own doctrine and 
exalted mission to proclaim it ; he will not hear of this being a 
mere figment of his own brain. On the contrary, he is convinced 
that he, like the inspired Psalmist, has passed through every kind 
of the terrors which the latter so movingly describes. Like the 
Psalmist, he too must pray, " O Lord, chastise me not in thy 
wrath," and like him, again, he is justified in complaining that 
his bones are broken and his soul troubled exceedingly (Ps. vi.). 
He even opines that those who have endured such things rank 
far above the martyrs ; David, according to him, would much 
rather have perished by the sword than have " endured this 
murmuring of his soul against God which called forth God s 
indignation." 2 

There is no doubt that Johann Lang might have been able to 
tell us much about these gloomy aberrations of Luther s, for he 
had a large share in Luther s development. 

It is worthy of note that it was to this bosom friend that 

1 Cp. above, vol. i., p. 166 ff., and, in particular, pp. 230-40. 

2 Lauterbach. " Tagebuch," p. 50 : " illos horrores contra Deum, 
etc., March 29, 1538. 


Luther sent his edition of " Eyn Deutsch Theologia." 1 " Taulerus 
tuus" ("Your Tauler" 2 ) so he calls the German mystic when 
writing to his friend, and in a similar way, in a letter to Lang, 
he speaks of the new theology built entirely on grace and passive 
reliance as " our theology." " Our theology and St. Augustine," 
he says, " are progressing bravely at our University and gam 
ing the upper hand, thanks to the working of God, whereas 
Aristotle is now taking a back seat." 3 We must not be of those 
who, " like Erasmus, fail to give the first place to Christ and 
grace," so he writes to Lang, knowing that here he would meet 
with a favourable response. The man who " knows and acknow 
ledges nothing but grace alone " judges very differently from one 
" who attributes something to man s free-will." 4 

It was not long before Luther s pseudo-mysticism trans 
lated itself into deeds. He persuades himself that he is 
guided in all his actions and resolutions by a sort of Divine 
inspiration. A singular sort of super-naturalism and self- 
sufficiency gleams in the words he once wrote to Lang. 
After reminding him of the unquestioned truth, that " man 
must act under God s power and counsel and not by his 
own," he goes on to explain defiantly, that, for this reason, 
he scorns once and for all any objections the Erfurt Augus- 
tinians might urge against the " paradoxical theses " he had 
sent them a little earlier, also their charge that he had shown 
himself hasty and precipitate : God was enough for him ; 
of their counsel and instruction he stood in no need. 5 As 
though real wisdom and true mysticism did not teach us to 
welcome humbly the opinion of well-meaning critics, and 
not to trust too implicitly our own ideas, particularly in 
fields where one is so liable to trip. But the " Theology of 
the Cross," sealed by his fears, now seemed to him above all 
controversy. During his temptations he had come to see 
its truth, and it also fell in marvellously with his changed 
views on the duties of a religious and with his renunciation 
of humility and self-denial. 

At a time when mysticism and the study of Tauler still 
exercised a powerful influence over him he was wont in his fits 
of terror to revert to Tauler s misapprehended considerations 
on the inward trials of the soul. 

In pursuance of this idea and hinting at his own mental state 
he declares in his " Operationes in psalmos " (1519-21), that, 
according to St. Paul (Rom. v. 3 f.), tribulations work in us 

1 June 4, 1518, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 207. 

2 (In Sep. ?) 1516, ib., p. 55. May 18, 1517, ib., p. 100. 

4 March 1, 1517, ib., p. 88. 6 Nov. 11, 1517, ib., p. 124. 


patience and trial and hope, and thus the love of God and 
justification ; tribulation, however, consisted chiefly of inward 
anxiety, and trial called for patience and calm endurance of this 
anxiety ; the greater the tribulation, the higher would hope rise 
in the soul. " Thus it is plain that the Apostle is speaking of the 
assurance of the heart in hope, 1 because, after anxiety cometh 
hope, and then a man feels that he hopes, believes and loves." 
" Hence Tauler, the man of God, and also others who have 
experienced it, say that God is never more pleasing, more lovable, 
sweeter and more intimate with His sons than after they have 
been tried by temptation." 2 It is quite true that Tauler said this ; 
he also teaches that the greater the desolation by which God tries 
the souls of the elect, the higher the degree of mystical union to 
which He wishes to call them ; for death is the road to life. It is 
quite another thing, however, whether Tauler would have 
approved of Luther s application of what he wrote. 

Luther also refers both to Tauler and to himself elsewhere in the 
" Operationes," where he speaks of the fears of conscience 
regarding the judgment of God which no one can understand 
who had not himself experienced them ; Job, David, King 
Ezechias and a few others had endured them ; " and finally 
that German theologian, Johannes Tauler, often alludes to such 
a state of soul in his sermons." 3 Tauler, however, when speaking 
of such afflictions, is thinking of those souls who seek God and 
are indeed united to Him in love, but who are tried and purified 
by the withdrawal of sensible grace, and by being made to feel 
a sense of separation from Him and the burden of their nature. 

In his church-postils he again summons Tauler to his aid in 
order to depict the fears with which he was so familiar, seeking 
consolation, as it were, both for himself and for others. In his 
sermon for the 2nd Sunday in Advent (1522) he speaks of " those 
exalted temptations concerning death and hell, of which Tauler 
wrote." Evidently speaking from experience he says : " This 
temptation destroys flesh and blood, nay, penetrates into the 
marrow of the bones and is death itself, so that no one can 
endure it unless marvellously borne up. Some of the patriarchs 
tasted this, for instance, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David and 
Moses, but, towards the end of the world, it will become more 
common." Finally, he assures his hearers, that, there were such 
as were " still daily tried " in this way, " of which but few people 
are aware ; these are men who are in the agony of death, and 
who grapple with death " ; still Christ holds out the hope that 
they are not destined to death and to hell ; on the other hand, it 
is certain that the " world, which fears nothing, will have to 
endure, first death, and, after that, hell." 4 

1 Luther wrote this about the time of the " Tower incident " (above, 
vol. i., p. 377 ff.) when engaged in wrestling after " certainty." 

* Weim. ed., 5, p. 165. Cp. W. Kohler, " Luther und die KG.," I, 1 
(1900), p. 260. 

3 " Werke," ib., p. 203 ; Kohler, ib., p. 259. 

4 Erl. ed., 10, p. 67. 


Other Ordeals 

Other temptations that assailed Luther must be taken 
into account. Unfortunately he does not say what " new " 
form of temptation it was of which he wrote to Johann Lang 
in 1519. He says : A temptation had now befallen him 
which showed him " what man was, though he had fondly 
believed that he was already well enough aware of this 
before " ; he felt it even more severely than the trials he 
had to endure before the Leipzig Disputation ; he would 
discuss it with him only by word of mouth when Lang came 
to see him. 1 Is he here referring to temptations of the 
flesh of an unusual degree of intensity ? We have already 
heard him bewail his temptations to ambition and hate. 
Moreover, in this very year he speaks of temptations against 
chastity in his Sermon on Marriage : It is a " shameful 
temptation," he says ; " I have known it well, and I imagine 
you too are acquainted with it ; ah, I know well how it is 
when the devil comes and excites and inflames the flesh. . . . 
When one is on fire and the temptation comes I know well 
what it is ; then the eye is already blind." 2 Already before 
this he had had to fight against " very many temptations " 
of the sort, which are " wont to attend the age of youth." 3 
Later on they startled him by their waxing strength. Of 
the temptations of the senses (" titillatio ") to which he was 
exposed he had complained, for instance, in the same year 
(1519) in a letter to his superior Staupitz, 4 and the worldly 
intercourse into which he was drawn, " the social gather 
ings, excessive indulgence in the pleasures of the table, and 
general lukewarmness," of which he speaks on the same 
occasion, make such temptations all the more likely in the 
case of a young man of a temper so lively and impression 
able, especially as his lukewarmness took the shape of 
neglect of prayer and the means of grace, and of the help he 
might have derived from the exercises of the Order. 

Such fleshly temptations he bewailed even more loudly 
when at the Wartburg. There, as we may recall, he became 

1 " Brief wechsel," 2, p. 70. 

1 Weim. ed., 9, p. 215 ; Erl. ed., 16 2 , p. 52, in the first non-expur 
gated form of the sermon (cp. above, vol. ii., p. 148). 

3 " Opp. lat. exeg.," 19, p. 100. 

4 Feb. 20, 1519, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 431. For " titillatio " see 
vol. ii., p. 94. 


the plaything of evil lust (" libido ") and the " fire of his 
untamed flesh." " Instead of glowing in spirit, I glow in 
the flesh." 1 Admitting that he himself " prayed and 
groaned too little for the Church of God," he exclaims : 
" Pray for me, for in this solitude I am falling into the abyss 
of sin ! " 2 Though in bodily health and well cared for, he is 
" being well pounded by sins and temptations," so he wrote 
to his old friend Johann Lang. 

To all this was still added great trouble of conscience con 
cerning his undertaking as a whole. When he was passion 
ately declaring that his misgivings were from the devil and 
resolving never to flinch in his antagonism to the hated 
vow of chastity he was himself falling into the state which 
he himself describes : " You see how I burn within ( quantis 
urgear cestibus )." This to Melanchthon, after having 
explained to him the struggle waging within between his 
feelings and his knowledge of the Bible in the matter of the 
vow of chastity. He is being carried away to take action, 
and yet is unable, as he here admits, to prove his object by 
means of the text of Scripture. 3 He feels himself to be " the 
sport of a thousand devils " in the Wart burg on account of 
this and other temptations ; he falls frequently, yet the 
right hand of God upholds him. 4 The castle is full of devils, 
so he wrote from within its walls, and very cunning devils 
to boot, who never leave him at peace but behave in such 
a way that he "is never alone " even when he seems to 
be so. 5 Hence he was writing " partly under the stress of 
temptation, partly in indignation." What he was writing 
was his " De votis monasticis," by means of which, as he 
here says, he is about " to free the young folk from the hell 
of celibacy." 6 

Ten years later he still recalls the " despair and the 
temptation concerning God s wrath " which had then been 
raging within him. 7 

1 To Melanchthon, July 13, 1521, " Briefwechsel," 3, p. 189. An 
attempt has been made to deprive the word libido of the sense it 
always has with Luther (cp. 1st Comm. on Galatians, 1519, and the 
later Commentary of 1531). It was alleged to mean "nothing more 
than an unusual desire for food and drink " ; in the same way 
the word " flesh " was taken merely as the antithesis of " spirit," i.e. 
the Holy Ghost ! 

2 76., p. 193 : " peccatis immergor in hac solitudine." 

3 Aug. 3, 1521, ib., p. 213. 

To Nicholas Gerbel of Strasburg, Nov. 1, 1521, ib., p. 240. 

5 To Spalatin, Nov. 11, 1521, ib., p. 247 f. 

76. 7 Schlaginhaufen, " Aufzeichn.," p. 9. 


His temptations at that time must have been rendered 
even worse by the morbid conditions then awakening in him, 
by the dismal, racking sense of fear that peopled his imagina 
tion with thousands of devils, and the mental confusion 
resulting from his state of nervous overstrain. 

It would carry us too far to pursue the diabolical tempta 
tions to despair (or what he held to be such) throughout the 
rest of his life, and to examine their connection with his 
maladies. We shall only remark, that, even at a later date, 
when we find him the butt of severe temptations of this sort, 
an under-current of other trouble is frequently to be 
detected. The " terrors " he endured in his youthful years 
indeed moderated but never altogether disappear. The 
" spiritual sickness " of 1537 of which he speaks, when for 
a whole fortnight he could scarcely eat, drink or sleep, shows 
the degree to which these thoughts of despair and struggles 
of conscience could reach. 


To sum up what we have said of Luther s temptations, a 
distinction must be made between the temptations of the 
Evil One, which Luther himself regarded as such, and 
certain other things the real nature of which he failed to 
grasp. Moreover, there are those " temptations " which 
bore on his work and doctrines and which he wrongly 
regarded as temptations of the devil, whereas they were no 
more than the prick of conscience. All three are at times 
reacted on by a morbid state which he likewise failed 
rightly to understand, but which was made up of that 
predisposition to anxiety to which his nature was so prone 
and a kind of nervous irritability due to his struggles and 
over-great labours. Only those of the first and second class 
have any title to be regarded as temptations. 

To the first class, i.e. to the temptations he felt and 
described as such, belongs first of all that despair which 
often disquieted him even in his later years ; then again the 
temptations of the flesh of which we have also heard him 
speak. Though he ascribes both to the machinations of the 
Evil One, yet his method of fighting them was fatally 
mistaken. The temptations to despair he withstood by 
his erroneous doctrine of grace and faith alone, and, the 
more such thoughts torment him, the more defiantly does 


he stand by this doctrine. In the case of the temptations 
against chastity he failed to make sufficient use of the 
remedies of Christian penance and piety ; on the contrary, 
under the stress of their allurements, he finally saw fit to 
demolish even the barrier raised by solemn vows made unto 

The second class of temptations, which to him, however, 
did not seem to be such, includes all the mental aberrations 
we have had occasion to note during the course of his life 
story, particularly at the beginning of his apostasy. Here 
we shall only indicate the more important. It may be 
allowed that many of them masqueraded under specious 
pretexts and the appearance of good ("sub specie boni"). 
Thus, e.g. there was something fine and inspiring in his 
plans of exalting the grace of Christ at the expense of the 
mere works of the faithful ; of giving the religious freedom of 
the Christian full play, regardless of unwarranted human 
ordinances ; of improving the cut-and-dry theology of the 
day by a deeper and more positive study of the Bible ; and 
of stopping the widespread decline in ecclesiastical learning 
and ecclesiastical life by stronghanded reforms. He allowed 
himself, however, to be altogether led astray in both the 
conception and the carrying out of these plans. 

There was grave peril to himself in that sort of spiritual 
ism, thanks to which he so frequently attributes all his 
doings to the direct inspiration and guidance of Almighty 
God ; real and enlightened dependence on God is something 
very different ; again, there was danger in his perverted 
interpretation of the teaching of the mystics of the past, 
in his exaggeration of the strength of man s sinful con 
cupiscence and neglect of the remedies prescribed in ages 
past, particularly of the practices of his own Order, also in 
his passionate struggles against the so-called holiness-by- 
works prevalent among the Augustinians, in his characteristic 
violence and tendency to pick a quarrel, and, above all, in 
the working of his inordinate self-esteem and unbounded 
appreciation of his own achievements as the leader of the 
new movement, which led him to exalt himself above all 
divinely appointed ecclesiastical authority. 

In the above we were obliged to hark back to Luther s 
earlier days, and this we shall again have to do in the follow 
ing pages. The truth is, that many of the secrets of his 


earlier years can be explained only in the light of his later 
life, whilst, conversely, his youth and years of ripening 
manhood assist us in solving some of the riddles of later 
years. Hence we cannot be justly charged with repeating 
needlessly incidents that have already been related. 

Just as the Wartburg witnessed the strongest tempta 
tions that Luther had ever to bear, so, too, it formed the 
stage of certain of those manifestations from the other world 
of which he fancied himself the recipient. Such manifesta 
tions, which lead one to wonder whether Luther suffered from 
hallucinations, are of frequent occurrence in his story. We 
shall now proceed to review them in their entirety. 

3. Ghosts, Delusions, Apparitions of the Devil 

In investigating the many ghostly apparitions with which 
Luther believed he had been favoured, our attention is 
perforce drawn to the Wartburg. We must, however, be 
careful to distinguish the authentic traditions from what has 
been unjustifiably added thereto. As to the explaining and 
interpreting of such testimonies as have a right to be 
regarded as historical, that will form the matter of a special 
study. In order that the reader may build up an opinion of 
his own we shall meanwhile only set on record what the 
sources say, the views of those concerned being given 
literally and unabridged. This method, essential though it 
be for the purposes of an unbiassed examination, has too 
often been set aside, recourse being had instead to mere 
assertions, denials and pathological explanations. 

The Statements Concerning Luther s Intercourse with 
the Beyond 

On April 5, 1538, Luther, in the presence of his friends, 
spoke of the personal " annoyance " to which the devil had 
subjected him while at the Wartburg by means of visible 
manifestations. The pastor of Sublitz, then staying at 
Wittenberg, had complained of being pestered at his home 
by noisy spooks. ; they flung pots and pans at his head and 
created other disturbances. Referring to such outward 
manifestations of the spirit- world, Luther remarked : "I 
too was tormented in ray time of captivity in Patmos, in 


the castle perched high up in the kingdom of the birds. 
But I withstood Satan and answered him in the words of 
the Bible : God is mine, Who created man and set all things 
under his feet (Ps. viii. 7). If thou hast any power over 
them, try what thou canst do." 1 

On another occasion he related before his friend Myconius 
and in the presence of Jonas and Bugenhagen, " how the 
devil had twice appeared at the Wartburg in the shape of a 
great dog and had tried to kill him." It is Myconius who 
relates this, mentioning that it had been told him by Luther 
at Gotha in 1538, 2 "in the house of Johann Loben, the 

Of one of these two apparitions, the physician Ratze- 
berger, Luther s friend, had definite information. He, 
however, quotes it only as an instance of the many ghostly 
things which Luther had experienced there : " Because the 
neighbourhood was lonely many ghosts appeared to him 
and he was much troubled by disturbances due to noisy 
spooks. Among other incidents, one night, when he was 
going to bed, he found a huge black bull-dog lying on his 
bed that refused to let him get in. Luther thereupon com 
mended himself to our Lord God, recited Ps. viii. [the same 
as that mentioned above], and when he came to the verse 
Thou hast set all things under his feet the dog at once 
disappeared and Luther passed a peaceful night. Many 
other ghosts of a like nature visited him, all of whom he 
drove off by prayer, but of which he refused to speak, for he 
said he would never tell anyone how many spectres had 
tormented him." 3 

According to the account of his pupil Mathesius, Luther 
often " called to mind how the devil had tormented him in 
mind and caused him a burning pain which sucked the very 
marrow out of his bones." 4 Of visible apparitions Mathesius 
has, however, very little to say : " The Evil Spirit," so we 
read in his account of Luther s sayings, " most likely wished 
to affright me palpably, for on many nights I heard him 
making a noise in my Patmos, and saw him at the Coburg 
under the form of a star, and in my garden in the shape of 

1 Lauterbach, Tagebuch," p. 55. Cp. above, vol. ii., p. 81. 

2 " Myconii Historia reformationis," ed. E. S. Cyprianus, p. 42. 

3 " Ratzebergers Handschriftl. Gesch.," etc., p. 54. 
" Hist.," Bl. f 196. 


A black pig. But my Christ strengthened me by His Spirit 
and Word so that I paid no heed to the devil s spectre." 1 
Mathesius, in his enthusiasm, actually goes so far as to 
compare such things to Satan s tempting of Christ in the 

The encounter with the great black dog in the Wartburg 
is related in an old edition of Luther s Table-Talk with a 
curious addition, which tells how Luther, on one occasion, 
calmly lifted from the bed the dog, which had frequently 
tormented him, carried him to the window, and threw him 
out without the animal even barking. Luther had not been 
able to learn anything about it afterwards from others, but 
no such dog was kept in the Castle. 2 

Of the strange din by which the devil annoyed him within those 
walls Luther speaks more in detail in the German Table-Talk. 
" When I was living in Patmos ... I had a sack of hazel nuts 
shut up in a box. On going to bed at night I undressed in my 
study, put out the light, went to my bedchamber and got into 
bed. Then the nuts began to rattle over my head, to rap very 
hard against the rafters of the ceiling and bump against me in 
bed ; but I paid no attention to them. After I had got to sleep 
there began such a din on the stairs as though a pile of barrels 
was being flung down them, though I knew the stairs were 
protected with chains and iron bars so that no one could come 
up ; nevertheless, the barrels kept rolling down. I got up and 
went to the top of the stairs to see what it was, but found the 
stairs closed. Then I said : If it is you, so be it, and commended 
myself to our Lord Christ of Whom it is written : Thou shalt 
set all things under his feet, as Ps. viii. says, and got into bed 
again." All this, so the account proceeds, had been related by 
Luther himself at Eisenach in 1546. 3 Cordatus, however, must 
have heard the story of the nuts from his own lips even before 
this. He tells it in 1537 as one of the numerous instances of the 
persecution Luther had had to endure from the spooks of the 
Wartburg : " Then he [the devil] took the walnuts from the table 
and flung them up at the ceiling the whole night long." 4 

It also happened (this supplements an incident touched upon 
above in vol. ii., p. 95), so Luther related on the above occasion, 
in 1546, that the wife of Hans Berlips, who " would much have 
liked to see [Luther], which was, however, not allowed," came 
to the Castle. His quarters were changed and the lady was 
put into his room. " That night there was such an ado in the 
room that she fancied a thousand devils were in it." 5 This story 
is not quite so well authenticated as the incidents which Luther 

1 Ib. * Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 440. 

3 Erl. ed., 59, p. 340 f. * " Tagebuch," p. 293. 

5 Erl. ed., 59, p. 341. 


relates as having happened to himself, for it is clear that he had 
it directly, or indirectly, only from this lady s account. Her 
anxiety to see Luther would seem to stamp her as a somewhat 
eccentric person, and it may also be that she went into a room, 
already reputed to be haunted, quite full of the thought of ghosts 
and that her imagination was responsible for the rest. 

Luther goes on to allude to another ghostly visitation, possibly 
a new one. He says : On such occasions we must always say to 
the devil contemptuously : "If you are Christ s Master, so be 
it ! " " For this is what I said at Eisenach." 1 Nothing further 
is known, however, of any such occurrence having taken place at 
Eisenach. He may quite well have taken Eisenach as synonymous 
with the Wartburg. 

To pass in review the other ghostly apparitions which occurred 
during his lifetime, we must begin with his early years. 

When still a young monk at Wittenberg Luther already 
fancied he heard the devil making a din. " When I began to 
lecture on the Psalter, and, after we had sung Matins, was 
seated in the refectory studying and writing up my lecture, the 
devil came and rattled in the chimney three times, just as though 
someone were heaving a sack of coal down the chimney. At last, 
as it did not cease, I gathered up my books and went to bed." 2 
" Once, too, I heard him over my head in the monastery, but, 
when I noticed who it was, I paid no attention, turned over and 
went to sleep again." 3 

Luther can tell some far more exciting stories of ghosts and 
" Poltergeists," of which others, with whom he had come in 
contact in youth or manhood, had been the victims. Since, 
however, he seems to have had them merely on hearsay, they 
may be passed over. Of himself, however, he says : "I have 
learnt by experience that ghosts go about affrightening people, 
preventing them from sleeping and so making them ill." 4 

We find also the following statement : " The devil has often 
had me by the hair of my head, yet was ever forced to let me go "; 6 
from the context this, however, may refer to mental temptations. 

He says, however, quite definitely of certain experiences he 
himself had gone through in the monastery : " Oh, I saw gruesome 
ghosts and visions." This was probably at the time when " no 
one was able to comfort " him. 6 He was referring to incidents 
to which no definite date can be assigned, when, anxious to refute 
their claim to illumination by the spirits, he told the fanatics : 
** Ah, bah, spirits ... I too have seen spirits ! " 

The Table-Talk relates how on one occasion Luther himself, 
in a strange house, was witness of a remarkable spectral 

1 Ib. 2 Erl. ed., 60, p. 70. 

3 Mathesius, " Aufzeichn.," p. 85, where Lcesche remarks that the 
Gotha Codex 263, 122 proved this by an instance taken from Luther s 
life. Cp. also Erl. ed., 59, p. 337. 

4 Erl. ed., 59, p. 337. 5 76., 57, p. 65. 
6 76., 60. p. 108. 


visitation. He is said to have related the incident and to 
"have seen it with his own eyes as did also many others." 1 
A maiden, a friend of the old proctor [at the University], was 
lying in bed ill at Wittenberg. She had a vision ; Christ appear 
ing to her under a glorious form, whereupon she joyfully adored 
her visitor. A messenger was at once sent " from the college to 
the monastery " to fetch Luther. He came and exhorted the 
young woman " not to allow herself to be deceived by the devil." 
She thereupon spat in the face of the apparition. " The devil 
then disappeared and the vision turned into a great snake which 
made a dash at the maiden in her bed and bit her on the ear so 
that the drops of blood trickled down, after which the snake was 
seen no more." This story was introduced into the German 
Table-Talk by Aurifaber (1566). 2 The young woman was 
probably hysterical and was the only beholder of the vision. In 
all likelihood what the others saw was merely the blood, which 
might quite well have come from a scratch otherwise caused. 
The story has been quoted as a proof of the dispassionate way in 
which Luther regarded visions. 

As a further proof of the " sobriety which he coupled with 
a faith so ardent and enthusiastic " Kostlin quotes the following : 3 
" He himself related this tale," the Table-Talk says [the date is 
uncertain but it was after he had already begun to preach the 
"Word "] ; "he was once praying busily in his cell, and thinking 
of how Christ had hung on the cross, suffered and died for our 
sins, when suddenly a bright light shone on the wall, and, in the 
midst, a glorious vision of the Lord with His five wounds appeared 
and gazed at him, the Doctor, as though it had been Christ Him 
self. When the Doctor saw it he fancied at first it was something 
good, but soon he bethought him it must be a devilish spectre, 
because Christ appears to us only in His Word and in a lowly and 
humble form, just as He hung in shame upon the cross. Hence 
the Doctor adjured the vision : Begone thou shameless devil ! 
I know of no other Christ than He Who was crucified, and Who 
is revealed and preached in His Word, and soon the apparition, 
which was no less than the devil in person, disappeared." 4 This 
story told by his pupils must refer to some statement made by 
Luther, though the dramatic liveliness of its imagery may well 
lead us to suspect that it has been touched up. Some natural effect 
of light and shade might well account for the appearance which 
the young monk so " busy " at his prayers thought he saw. 

1 /&., 58, p. 128 f. Cp. above, vol. v., p. 286 f. 

2 In Aurifaber s edition, 1568, Bl. 91, 92. Stangwald, who as a rule 
eliminates, as he assures us, all that was not Luther s very own, has 
retained it in his edition of the Table-Talk (1571) ; likewise Selnecker 
(1577). For this reason we also find it in Forstemann s 1st ed., 1844, 
p. 400. It is not given in the Latin Table-Talk, but, as a comparison 
with Bindseil s " Tabellen," 3, p. 471, shows, we miss in the Latin 
a whole number of unquestionably authentic Luther conversations 
occurring in the German editions. It is to be found in ; Werke," Erl. 
ed., 58, p. 129. 

3 Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 517. 4 Erl. ed., 58, p. 128. 


It is hardly possible to suppress similar doubts concerning 
other accounts we have from his lips ; his statements also refer 
to events which occurred long previous. At any rate, in a select 
circle of his pupils, the opinion certainly prevailed that Luther 
was tried by extraordinary other-world apparitions, and this 
conviction was the result of remarks dropped by him. 

Greater stress must be laid on those statements of his 
which bear on inward experiences, where the most momentous 
truths were concerned and which occurred at certain crises 
of his life. 

In Nov., 1525, he assured Gregory Casel, the Strasburg 
theologian, in so many words, that " he had frequently 
had inward experience that the body of Christ is indeed 
in the Sacrament ; he had seen dreadful visions ; also 
angels ( vidisse se visiones horribiles, scepe se angelos 
vidisse ), so that he had been obliged to stop saying Mass." 1 

He spoke in this way in the course of the official negotia 
tions with Casel, the delegate of the Protestant theologians 
of Strasburg. The words occur in Casel s report of the inter 
view published by Kolde. It is true that Luther also speaks 
here of the outward " Word " as the support of his doctrine, 
particularly on the Sacrament. " We shall," he says, 
" abide quite simply by the words of Scripture until the 
Spirit and the unction teach us something different." He 
avers that the Strasburgers who denied the Sacrament 
come with their " Spirit " and wish to explain away the 
words of the Bible concerning the body of Christ in the 
Bread. This, however, is not the " light of the Spirit," but 
the " light of reason " ; he himself had long since learnt to 
reject reason in the things of God. They were not con 
vinced of their cause as he was, otherwise they would defend 
their teaching publicly as he did, for he would rather the 
whole world were undone than be silent on God s doctrine, 
because it was God s business to watch over it. 

His opponents declared they had their own inward experience. 
" How many inward experiences have I not had," he replies, 
" at those times when my mind was idle ( cum eram otiosus ) ! 
All sorts of things came before my mind and everything seemed 
as reasonable as could be. But, by God s grace, I addressed 
myself to greater and more earnest matters and began to distrust 
reason. I too, like them, was in dangers [2 Cor. xi. 26], and in 
even greater ones. And if it is a question of piety of life, I hope 

1 Kolde, " Anal. Lutherana," p. 72. 


that there, too, we are blameless." Coming back once more to the 
spirit which the Strasburgers had set up against the Word of God, 
he describes in his own defence the " terrors of death he himself 
had been through ( mortis horror em expertus )" and then speaks 
of the angelic visions referred to above which had disturbed him 
even at the Mass. 1 

He also will have it that at other times he had been consoled by 
angels, though he does not tell us that he had seen them. In 
1532 he said to Schlaginhaufen : " God strengthened me ten 
years ago by His angels, in my struggles and writings." 2 

Luther, repeatedly and in so many words, appeals to his 
realisation of the divine truths, and it may be assumed he 
imagined he felt something of the sort within him, or that he 
thus interpreted certain emotions. " I am resolved to acknow 
ledge Christ as Lord. And this I have not only from Holy 
Scripture but also from experience. The name of Christ has 
often helped me when no one was able to help. Thus I have on 
my side the deed arid the Word, experience and Scripture. God 
has given both abundantly. But my temptations made things 
sour for me." 3 

The Table-Talk assures us that, " Dr. Martin proved it 
from his own experience that Jesus Christ is truly God ; 
this he also confessed openly ; for if Christ were not God 
then there was certainly no God at all." 4 It was no difficult 
task for him to include himself in the ranks of those " who 
had received the first fruits of the spirit." 5 

In addition to this, however, as will be shown below, 6 
he thinks his doctrine has been borne in upon him by God 
through direct revelation. More than once, without any 
scruple, he uses the word " revelatum " ; he is also fond of 
setting this revelation in an awesome background : it had 
been " strictly enjoined on him ( interminatum ) under 
pain of eternal malediction " to believe in it. 7 

In fact a certain terror is the predominating factor in 
this gloomy region where he comes in touch with the other 
world. He has not merely had experience that there are 

1 /6., p. 71. 

2 Schlaginhaufen, " Aufzeichn.," p. 39, Jan. to March, 1532. The 
passage commences : " Tanta spectra vidi" seemingly referring to the 
ghosts at the Wartburg. 

3 Mathesius, " Aufzeichn.," p. 97. 4 Erl. ed., 58, p. 4. 
5 " Opp. lat. var.," 1, p. 20. Preface dating from 1545. 

See below, p. 142 ff. 

7 " Fui (dignus), cui sub ceternce irce maledictions inter minaretur, ne 
ullo modo de iia dubitarem" Lauterbach, " Tagebuch," p. 81, n. From 
Khummer s " Tagebuch." Reference to some external apparition is 
not excluded. 


roving spirits who affright men, 1 but, in a letter from the 
Wart burg, he insists quite generally, that, " the visions of 
the Saints are terrifying." Of course, as we well know, 
delusions and hallucinations very often do assume a terrify 
ing character. 

Luther also asserts that " divine communications " are 
always accompanied by inward tortures like unto death, 
words which give us a glimpse into his own morbid state. 2 
And yet he fully admits elsewhere the very opposite, for 
he is aware that God is, above all things, the consoler. It is 
not Christ Who affrights us " ; 3 and " it is Satan alone who 
wounds and terrifies." 4 But, in practice, according to him, 
things work differently ; there the fear from which he and 
others suffer comes to the fore. " We are oftentimes 
affrighted even when God turns to us the friendliest of 
glances." 5 

This change of standpoint reminds us of another instance 
of the same sort. Luther s teaching on the terrifying 
character of the divine action is much the same as his 
theological teaching that fear is the incentive to good deeds. 
While, as a rule, he goes much too far in seeking to rid the 
believer of any fear of God as the Judge, preaching an 
unbounded confidence and even altogether excluding fear 
from the work of conversion, yet, elsewhere, he emphasises 
most strongly this same fear, as called for and quite indis 
pensable ; this he did in his controversies with the Anti- 
nomians and, even earlier, as on the occasion of the Visita 
tions, on account of its religious influence on the people. 

No change or alteration is, however, apparent in the 
accounts he gives above of the cases in which he came in 
touch with the other world ; he sticks firmly by his state 
ment that he had experienced such things both mentally and 
palpably. Hence the difficulty of coming to any decision 
about them. 

But there are further alleged experiences, also detailed at 
length, which have a place here, viz. the apparitions of the 
devil himself. 

1 See above, p. 125. 2 Cp. above, p. 117, etc. 

3 Schlaginhaufen, " Aufzeichn.," p. 42. Cp. Cordatus, " Tage- 
buch," p. 95. 

4 Lauterbach, " Tagebuch," p. 127. 

& Cordatus, ib., p. 95. Cp. Erl. ed., 57, p. 305. 
VJ. K 


In 1530 Luther was thrown into commotion by a glimpse of 
the devil, under the shape of a fiery serpent, outside the walls of 
the Coburg. One evening in June, about nine o clock, as his 
then companion Veit Dietrich relates, Luther was looking out of 
the window, down on the little wood surrounding the castle. 
" He saw," says this witness, " a fiery, flaming serpent, which, 
after twisting and writhing about, dropped from the roof of the 
nearest tower down into the wood. He at once called me and 
wanted to show me the ghost ( spectrum ) as I stood by his 
shoulder. But suddenly he saw it disappear. Shortly after, we 
both saw the apparition again. It had, however, altered its 
shape and now looked more like a great flaming star lying in the 
field, so that we were able to distinguish it plainly even though 
the weather was rainy." Here the pupil undoubtedly did his 
best to see something. On his master, however, the firm con 
viction of having seen the devil made a deep impression. He had 
just enjoyed a short respite after a bout of ill-health. The night 
after the apparition he again collapsed and almost lost conscious 
ness. On the following day he felt, so Dietrich says, " a very 
troublesome buzzing in the head " ; the apparition leads the 
narrator to infer that Luther s bodily trouble, which now recom 
menced in an aggravated form, had been entirely " the work of 
the devil." 1 So certain was Luther of having seen the devil that 
he mentioned the occurrence in 1531 at one of the meetings held 
for the revision of his translation of the Psalms. The words of 
the Psalmist concerning " sagittce " and " fulgura," etc. (Ps. xviii. 
(xvii.) 15), he applies directly to his own personal experiences and 
to the incident in question, " Just as I saw my devil flying over 
the wood at the Coburg." 2 He means by this the fading away 
and disappearance of the above-mentioned fiery shape ; this 
psalm speaks of a " materia ignita," which no doubt suggested 
his remarks. Later, as Mathesius relates, he said he had seen the 
"evil spirit at the Coburg, in the form of a star." 3 Rawer an 
terms the apparition an "optical hallucination."* 

By the word hallucination is understood an apparent 
perception of an external object not actually present. That 
the " apparition " at the Coburg and other similar ones 
already mentioned or yet to be referred to were hallucina 
tions is quite possible though not certain. It is true that the 
excessive play Luther gave to his imagination, particularly 
at the Wartburg and, later, at the Coburg, was such that it 
is quite within the bounds of possibility that he fancied he 

1 From the MS. quoted by Kawerau, " Zeitschr. f. kirchl. Wissen- 
chaft und kirchl. Leben," 1, 1880, p. 50. Cp. F. Kiichenmeister, 

" Luthers Krankengesch.," p. 67 f. 

2 " Werke," Weim. ed., on the German Bible, 3, p. xlii. Risch, 
" N. kirchl. Zeitschr.," 1911, p. 80. 

2 Above, p. 123. 

4 " Deutsch- evangel. Blatter," 29, 1904, p. 310. 


saw or heard things which had no real existence. On the 
other hand, moreover, we know what a large share his 
superstition had in distorting actual facts. Hence, generally 
speaking, most of the ghosts or visions he is said to have 
seen can be explained by a mistaken interpretation of the 
reality, without there being any need to postulate an 
hallucination properly so-called. Much of what has been 
related might come under the heading of illusions, though, 
probably, not everything. To analyse them in detail 
is, however, impossible as the circumstances are not 
accurately known. Certainly no one, however much 
inclined to the supernatural, who is familiar with Luther 
and his times, will be content, as was once the case, to 
believe that the devil sought to interfere visibly and palpably 
with his person and his teaching. 

As to the apparition of the devil at the Coburg in the shape of 
a flame, a serpent and a star, we may point out that the whole 
may well have been caused simply by a lantern or torch carried 
by somebody in that lonely neighbourhood. We might also be 
tempted to think of St. Elmo s fire, except that the form of the 
apparition presents some difficulty. So, too, the black dog in 
the Wartburg was most likely some harmless intruder. The noise 
of the nuts flying up against the ceiling may have been produced 
by the creaking of a weather-cock, or of a door or shutter in 
the wind [or by the rats]. Other tales again may be rhetorical 
inventions, simple fictions of Luther s brain, not involving the 
least suggestion of any illusion or hallucination, for instance, 
when he speaks of the angels who appeared to him at Mass. Such 
an apparition was a convenient weapon to use against opponents 
who alleged they were under the influence of the " Spirit." . More 
over, some of these tales were told so long after the event as to 
leave a wide scope to the imagination. 

To proceed with the accounts of the apparitions of the 
devil : About the reality of two of such, Luther is quite 

One of these took place close to his dwelling. The devil he then 
espied in the shape of a wild-boar in his garden under his window. 
" Once Martin Luther was looking out of the window," so an 
account dating from 1548 tells us, " when a great black hog 
appeared in the garden." He recognised it as a diabolical 
apparition and jeered at Satan who appeared in this guise, 
though he had once been a " beautiful angel." " Thereupon the 
hog melted into nothing." 1 He himself refers to this apparition 

1 Alber Erasm., Dialogus vom Interim, 1548, Bl. B. III. Cp. Seide- 
mann, " Theol. Stud, und Krit.," 1876, p. 564 f. 


in the words already recorded, in which he classes it with the 
work of the noisy spirits in the Wartburg and the " appearance of 
the star " at the Coburg. 1 

Indeed the hog and the flaming vision at the Coburg even 
found their way into his printed sermons. We read in the home- 
postils : " The devil is always about us in disguise, as I myself 
witnessed, taking, e.g. the form of a hog, of a burning wisp of 
straw, and such like " 2 (cp. above, vol. v., p. 287 ff.). 

The other apparition, the one which possibly suggests most 
strongly an hallucination, was that which he experienced at 
Eisleben at the time he was trying to adjust the quarrels between 
the Counts of Mansfeld, i.e. just before his death. We have 
accounts of this from two different quarters, based on statements 
made by Luther ; first that of Michael Ccelius, a friend who was 
present at his death, in the funeral oration he delivered im 
mediately after at Eisleben on Feb. 20, and, secondly, that of 
Luther s confidant, the physician Ratzeberger. The former in 
his address recounts for the edification of the people how Luther 
" during his lifetime " had suffered trials and persecutions at the 
hands of the devil before going to his eternal rest ; hence in this 
world he had been " disturbed and troubled in his peace of mind " 
by Satan. It was true that latterly he had " enjoyed some 
happiness " at Eisleben, but " that had not lasted long ; one 
evening indeed," so Coelius continues, " Luther had lamented 
with tears, that, while raising his heart to God with gladness and 
praying at his open window, he had seen the devil, who hindered 
him in all his labours, squatting on the fountain and making 
faces at him. But God would prove stronger than Satan, that he 
knew well." 3 Ratzeberger s account quite agrees with this as 
to the circumstances ; he had learnt that Luther " related the 
incident to Dr. Jonas and Mr. Michael Coelius." His information 
is not derived from the funeral oration just mentioned, but 
clearly from elsewhere. He is right in implying that it was 
Luther s habit to say his night prayers at the window ; he has, 
however, some further particulars concerning the behaviour of 
the devil : " It is said that when Dr. Martin Luther was saying 
his night prayers to God at the open window, as his custom was 
before going to bed, he saw Satan perched on the fountain that 
stood outside his dwelling, showing him his posterior and jeering 
at him, insinuating that all his efforts would come to nought." 4 
The first place, however, belongs to the account of Coelius, who, 
by his mention of the tears Luther shed, sets vividly before the 
reader the commotion into which the apparition, which had 
occurred shortly before, had thrown him. 

Excitement and trouble of mind were then pressing heavily 
on the aging man. His frame of mind was caused not merely by 
the quarrel between the " wrangling Counts " of Mansfield with 

1 Above, p. 123f. 

2 C. F. Kahnis, "Die deutsche Reformation," 1, 1872, p. 142. 

3 " Luthers Werke," Walch s ed. 21, Suppl., p. 325.* 
" Handschriftl. Gesch.," etc., p. 133. 


whom "no remonstrances or prayers brought any help," 1 not 
merely by his usual " temptations," but also, as Ratzeberger tells 
us, by the healing up of the incision in the left leg, he (Ratzeberger) 
had made, and which now led to bodily disorders. The disorders 
now made common cause with his " annoyance melancholy and 
grief." The " violent mental excitement," together with the bad 
effects of the healing up of the artificial wound, were, according to 
this physician, what " brought about his death." Ratzeberger 
was not, however, then at Eisleben and we are in possession of 
more accurate accounts of the circumstances attending Luther s 

In explanation of Luther s singular delusion regarding the 
jeering devil we may remark that he is fond af attributing the 
obstacles in the way of peace to the devil s wrath and envy. " It 
seems to me that the devil is mocking us," he writes of the 
difficulties on Feb. 6, " may God mock at him in return ! " 2 The 
Eisleben councillor, Andreas Friedrich, writes to Agricola on 
Feb. 17 (18) of these same concerns, that Luther, when he found 
there was still no prospect of a settlement, had complained : "As 
I see, Satan turns his back on me and jeers as well." 3 Here, 
curiously enough, we have exactly what occurred at the fountain. 
If the apparition, as is highly probable, belongs somewhat later, 
then we may assume that the vivid picture of the devil under 
this particular shape with which Luther was so familiar led 
finally to some sort of hallucination. His extravagant ideas of 
Satan generally might, in fact, have been sufficient. Everything 
that went against him was " Satanic," and his only hope is that 
" God will make a mockery of Satan." 4 

The account Luther gives in his Table-Talk of the two devils 
who, in his old age, accompanied him whenever he went to the 
"sleep-house" may be dealt with briefly. In this passage he is 
alluding in his joking way to his bodily infirmities. 5 Hence the 
" one or two " devils who dogged his footsteps are here described 
as quite familiar and ordinary companions, which is not in keep 
ing with the idea of true apparitions ; they were the nicer sort, 
i.e. pretty, well-mannered devils ; they " attacked his head " 
and thus caused the malady to which he was most subject, hence 
in his usual style he threatens to " bid them begone into his 
a ," in short he is here merely jesting. This forbids our 

1 Ratzeberger, ib. 

2 To Cath. Bora, " Briefe," ed. De Wette, 5, p. 786. Cp. the letter 
of Feb. 7 to the same, ib., 5, p. 787 : "I think that hell and the whole 
world must be empty of devils who have all forgathered here at 
Eisleben on my account ; so great are the difficulties." 

3 " Fiinf Brief en aus den letzten Tagen Luthers," ed. Kawerau 
(" Stud, und Krit.," 54, 1881, p. 160 ff.), p. 162 : " Ut video, Sathan 
nates videndas porrigit mihi et ultra derisum adest (addit ?) " ; after this, 
adds Friedrich, the way was paved for some sort of reconciliation. 

4 To Amsdorf, Jan. 8, 1546, " Briefe," ed. De Wette, 6, p. 773 : 
" Satanica aunt hcec, sed Deus, quern rident, ridebit eos suo tempore." 
Cp. also vol. v., passim. 

6 Mathesius, " Aufzeichn.," p. 113. Erl. ed., 60, pp. 55, 73. 


taking the statement as meant in earnest though it is twice 
quoted in the German Table-Talk quite seriously. In the early 
days, immediately after Luther s death, the statements con 
cerning the " two devils " were, strange to say, reverently 
repeated by his pupils as an historic fact ; in reality they were all 
too eager to unearth miraculous incidents in his life. 

At a later period, when rationalism had made some headway, 
Protestant biographers of Luther as a rule preferred to say 
nothing about the apparitions Luther had met with, or to treat 
them as pious, harmless jests misinterpreted by his pupils. 
This, however, is not at all in accordance with historic criticism. 
Luther admirers of an earlier date, on the other hand, went too 
far in the contrary direction and showed themselves only too 
ready to follow their master into the other world, or to represent 
him as holding intercourse with it. Cyriacus Spangenberg (1528- 
1604), a Luther zealot, is an instance in point. In his " Theander 
Lutherus," speaking of Luther " the real holy martyr," he 
says : He deserved to be termed a martyr on account of the 
visible hostility of the devil ; one or two devils had been in the 
habit of accompanying him in his walks in the dormitory in 
order to attack him, and his illnesses were caused simply by the 
devil. Needless to say, he does not allow the incidents men 
tioned above to escape him : Satan had tormented him at the 
Coburg in the shape of a fiery star and in the garden under that of 
a hog ; he had tried to deceive him in his cell under the dazzling 
image of Christ, had affrighted him in the Wartburg by making a 
devilish noise with the nuts, and, finally, even in his monkish 
days had driven the student at a late hour from his studies by 
the din he made. 1 

It is a fact worthy of note that the older Protestant 
writers, when speaking of the apparitions Luther had, never 
mention any such or any revelations of a consoling char 
acter, but merely terrifying stories of devils and diabolical 
persecutions. This agrees with the observation already 
made above (p. 128 f.). It is evident that as good as 
nothing was known of any consoling apparitions ; nor 
would the mild and friendly angels have been in place in the 
warlike picture which his friends transmitted of Luther. 
That he did not think himself a complete stranger to such 
heavenly communications has, however, been proved above, 
and it may be that his imagination would have had more to 
relate concerning this friendlier world above had he not 
had particular reasons for being chary about speaking of such 

1 p. 193 ff. 


The Disputation with the Devil on the Mass 

In Spangenberg even Luther s famous disputation with 
the devil on private Masses is also made to do duty among 
the other apparitions. He, like many others, takes it as an 
actual occurrence and represents it as further proof of the 
" real martyrdom " of his hero. 1 As, conversely, this 
disputation also plays a part in the works of Luther s 
adversaries, it may be worth while to examine it somewhat 
more narrowly. It is urged that Luther admits he had 
been instructed by the devil regarding the falsity of the 
Catholic doctrine of the Mass, and, that, by thus tracing it 
back to the devil, he stamps with untruth an important 
portion of his teaching, seeing, that, from the father of lies, 
nothing but lies can be expected. 

What then are we to believe concerning this disputation, 
judging from Luther s own words which constitute our 
sole source ? The only possible answer is, that Luther is 
merely making use of a rhetorical device. 

It is true, that, in his " Von der Winckelmesse " (1533), Luther 
speaks in so elusive a way of his dispute with the devil, and of 
the truth he had learnt from the latter, that the incident was 
taken literally, not merely by Spangenberg and other of Luther s 
oldest friends, but actually by Cochlseus too, and was, at a later 
date, made the subject of many disquisitions. Yet, if we look 
into the matter carefully, we shall find he speaks from the very 
outset not of any actual apparition of the devil, but merely of 
his inward promptings : " On one occasion," so he introduces 
the story, " I woke up at midnight and the devil began a disputa 
tion with me in my heart, 1 such as he has with me " many a 
night." 2 He then goes on, however, to describe the disputation 
as graphically as had it been a real incident. 

Luther s object with the writing in question is to fling at the 
Papists his arguments against private Masses under a new and 
striking form. He pretends that the Papists would be at a loss to 
answer Satan, but would be forced to despair " were he to bring 
forward these and other arguments against them at the hour of 
death." Hence he introduces himself and shows how the devil 
had driven him into a corner on account of his former celebration 
of Mass. As for the arguments they are his usual ones. Here, put 
in the mouth of the devil, they are to overwhelm him with 
despair for his former evil wont of saying Masses. The only 
reason he can espy why he should not despair is that he has now 
repented and no longer says the Mass. 

1 /&., p. 200. 2 Erl. ed., 31, p. 311. 


He himself alludes to the artifice ; writing to a friend, he says, 
that by the introduction of the devil he intends to attack the 
Papists " with a pamphlet of a new kind " ; even those friendly 
to the Evangel would be astonished at his new way of writing ; 
they were, however, to be told that this was merely a challenge 
thrown to the Papists ; that it only represented himself as 
driven into a corner by the devil on account of the Masses he had 
formerly said, in order to induce the Papists to examine their 
consciences and see how they could vindicate themselves with 
regard to the Mass. 1 Thus, for once, the devil might well figure 
as an upholder of Luther s doctrine. 

In the course of the drama the devil never grows weary of 
proving, that, owing to the Masses Luther had said, and the 
idolatry he had thus practised, he had been brought to the verge 
of everlasting destruction. The devil s arguments are given at 
great length and Luther concedes everything save that he refuses 
to despair. The statement that he should, so he urges, is worthy 
of the devil, who, in his temptations, constantly confuses the 
false with the true. 2 Luther, here, even introduces the devil 
in a quasi-comic light : " Do you hear, you great, learned man ? " 
etc. " Yes, my dear chap, that is not the same," etc. In a 
similar tone Luther then turns on the Papists who say to him : 
" Are you a great Doctor and yet have no answer ready for the 
devil ? " 

Certain Protestant writers, even down to our own times, 
have, however, insisted that, at any rate inwardly, the 
devil had sought to reduce Luther to despair on account of 
his celebration of Mass as a Catholic ; that the spirit of 
darkness had attached so much importance to the sup 
pression of the Gospel, that he attempted to disquiet Luther 
with such self-reproaches. 3 It is true Luther once says that 
the devil reproached him with his " misdeeds, for instance, 
with the sacrifice of the Mass," and other Catholic practices 
of which he had formerly been guilty. 4 On other occasions, 
however, he quite absolves the devil of any change con 
cerning the Mass. He says, e.g. : " The devil is such a 
miscreant that he does not reproach me with my great and 

1 To Nich. Hausmann, Dec. 17, 1533, " Brief wechsel," 9, p. 363. 

2 Cp. G. Koffmane, " Handschriftl. tJberlieferung von Werken 
Luthers," 1907. See above, vol. iv., p. 520 f. 

3 This was the view taken, e.g. by Fr. Balduinus, who published a 
work at Eisleben in 1605 against the unfortunate attempt of the 
learned Jesuit, Nicholas Serarius, to uphold the reality of the dialogue 
with the devil. According to Balduinus it was really a " gravissima 
tentatio beati Lutheri," by which the devil sought to reduce him to 

4 Cp. Schlaginhaufen, " Aufzeichn.," p. 9, of Dec. 14, 1531. 


awful crimes such as the celebration of Mass," 1 etc. Thus he 
had persuaded himself quite independently of the devil that 
the Mass was a grievous crime. We have, in fact, in Luther s 
statements concerning his inward experiences a crying 
instance of his changeableness. We shall return below to 
his self-reproach on account of his celebration of Mass 
(see section 4). 

Possession and Exorcism 

We may conclude our examination of diabolical appar 
itions by some statements concerning the exorcisms Luther 
undertook and his treatment of cases of possession. 

His first followers believed he had been successful in 1545 
in driving out Satan in the case of a person possessed. The 
testimony of two witnesses of the incident must here come 
under consideration, both young men who were present on 
the occasion, viz. Sebastian Froschel, Deacon at Wittenberg, 
and Frederick Staphylus, a man of learning who afterwards 
abandoned Lutheranism and became Superintendent of the 
University of Ingolstadt. 2 The latter knows nothing of any 
success having attended Luther s efforts, whereas the 
former boasts that such was the case, though he somewhat 
invalidates his testimony by saying nothing of the em 
barrassing situation in which Luther found himself at the 
close of the scene. According to both accounts the incident 
was more or less as follows : 

A girl of eighteen from Ossitz in the neighbourhood of Meissen 
who was said to be possessed was brought one Tuesday to 
Luther, and, while at his bidding reciting the Creed, was "torn " 
by the devil as soon as she reached the words " and in Jesus 
Christ." Luther hesitated at first to set about the work of 
liberation and expressed his contempt for the devil whom he 
" well knew." The next day, after his sermon, he caused the 
"possessed" girl to be brought to him in the sacristy of the 
parish church of Wittenberg by the above-mentioned Froschel. 

We hear nothing of any regular examination as to whether it 
was a case of possession, or not rather hysteria, as seems more 
likely. At any rate, the unhappy girl when passing from the 
church through the entrance to the sacristy, was seen to " fall 

1 /&., p. 89, in May, 1532, thus only a few months after the above 

2 Seb. Froschel, " Von den heiligen Engeln, vom Teuffel und des 
Menschen Seele. Drey Sermon," Wittenberg, 1563, Bl. L2 to Bl. 4a. 
Friedr. Staphylus, " Nachdruck zu Verfechtung des Buches vom 
rechten waren Verstandt des gottlichen Worts," Ingolstadt, 1562, 
p. 154 . 


down and hit about her." The door of the sacristy, where several 
doctors, ecclesiastics and students were gathered, was locked. 
Luther delivered an address on his method of driving out the 
devil : He did not intend to do this in the way usual in Apostolic 
time, in the early Church and later, viz. by a command and 
authoritative exorcism, but rather by " prayer and contempt" ; 
the Popish exorcism was too ostentatious and of it the devil was 
not worthy ; at the time when exorcism had been introduced 
miracles were necessary for the confirmation of the faith, but 
this was now no longer the case ; God Himself knew well when 
the devil had to depart and they ought not to tempt Him by 
such commands, but, on the contrary, pray until their prayers 
were answered. Thus Luther, not unwisely, refused to perform 
any actual " driving out of the devil." 

The Church s ritual for exorcism was, however, not so ostenta 
tious as Luther pretends, and combined commands issued in a 
tone of authority in the name of Christ (Mat. x. 8 ; Mark xvi. 
17) with an expression of contempt for the devil and reprobation 
of his evil deeds. Froschel noted down the address in question 
together with everything that occurred and said later in a sermon, 
that Luther s action ought to serve as a model in future cases. 

In the sacristy the Creed and Our Father were recited, two 
passages on prayer (from John xvi. and xiv.) were also read aloud 
by Luther. Then he, together with the other ecclesiastics present, 
laid hands on the head of the girl and continued reciting prayers. 
When no sign appeared of the devil s departure, Luther wished 
to go, but first took care to spurn the girl with his foot, the better 
to mark anew his disdain for the devil. The poor creature whom 
he had thus insulted followed him with threatening looks and 
gestures. This was all the more awkward since Luther was unable 
to escape, the key of the sacristy door having been mislaid ; 
hence he was obliged, he the devil s greatest and best-hated foe 
on earth, to remain cheek by jowl with the Evil One. 

The satirical description Staphylus gives of the situation 
cannot be repeated here, especially as the writer seems to have 
added to its colour. 1 Luther was unable to jump out of the 
window, so he says, because it was protected with iron bars ; 
" hence he had to remain shut up with us until the sacristan 
could pass in a strong hatchet to us through the bars ; this was 
handed to me, as I was young, for me to burst open the door, which 
I then did." In place of all this, Froschel merely says of the girl, 
who was taken home the following day, that afterwards " on 
several occasions " reports came to Wittenberg to the effect that 
the evil spirit no longer " tormented and tore her as formerly." 

In the pulpit the Deacon immortalised the incident for his 
Wittenberg hearers and made it known to the whole world in his 
printed sermon " Vom Teuffel." 2 

1 " Whereupon Luther became even more anxious and alarmed. . . . 
It was wonderful to see how he ran about the sacristy meanwhile, 
wringing his hands for very fear." 

8 Cp. " Briefe," ed. De Wette, 5, p. xxiv., where the exorcism is 


Luther himself says nothing of it, though disposed in later 
life to lay great stress on stories of the devil. 1 Earlier than 
this, in 1540, he had hastened to tell his Katey of the sup 
posed deliverance of a girl at Arnstadt from the devil s power 
through the ministrations of the Evangelical pastor there ; 
the latter had " driven a devil out of the girl in a truly 
Christian manner." 2 He does not, however, mention this 
incident in his published works. 

On the other hand we have in the Table-Talk a full 
account of his treatment of a woman " possessed," or, 
rather, clearly ailing from a nervous disorder. Her symp 
toms were regarded, as was customary at a time when so 
little was known of this class of maladies, as " purely the 
work of the devil, as something unnatural, due to fright and 
devil-spectres, seeing that the devil had overlaid her in the 
shape of a calf." Luther, on visiting the woman thus 
" bodily persecuted by the devil," again laid great stress on 
the need of praying that she might be rid of her guest, 
though this time he did not scorn the use of the formula of 
exorcism. " The night after, she was left in peace, but, 
later, the weakness returned. Finally, however, she was 
completely delivered from it ; " 3 in other words, the malady 
simply took its natural course. 

Another much-discussed case which occurred after the 
middle of the thirties was that of a girl at Frankfurt-on-the- 
Oder, a report of which came to Luther from Andreas 
Ebert, the Lutheran pastor there (see above, vol. iii., 
p. 148). In his reply to the circumstantial account of how 
the " possessed " girl was able to produce coins by magic 
Luther shows himself in so far cautious that he is anxious 
to have it made clear whether the story is quite true and 
whether the coins are real. Nevertheless, he does not 
hesitate to declare, that, should the incident be proved, it 
would be a great omen (" ostentum "), as Satan, with God s 
permission, was thus setting before them a picture of the 
greed of money prevailing among certain of the princes. He 

transposed to Jan. 18(19). /&., p. 772, Luther relates how he had 
cured the madness (" mania ") of a " melancholy " person who had 
been subjected by the devil to this " temptation," and also explains 
how blessings were to be given. 

1 See above, vol. v., p. 240 f. 

2 To Bora, July 2, 1540, " Brief wechsel," 13, p. 107. 

3 Erl. ed., 60, pp. 138-40. 


was loath to see exorcism resorted to, " because the devil 
in his pride laughs at it " ; all the more were they to pray 
for the girl and against the devil, and this, with the help of 
Christ, would finally spell her liberation ; meanwhile, how 
ever, he expresses his readiness to make public all the facts 
of the case that could be proved. In his sermons he spoke 
of the occurrence to his hearers as a " warning." 1 

Theodore Kirchhoff, who, in the " Allgemeine Zeitschrift 
fur Psychiatric," mentions " Luther s exorcisms of hysterical 
women folk," not without bewailing his error, points out 
that it was in part his own fancied experience with the devil 
which led him to regard " similar phenomena in others as 
diabolical " ; "his many nervous ailments," he says, 
" strengthened his personal belief in the devil." " Indeed, 
so far did he go in his efforts to drive out the devil that once 
he actually proposed that an idiot should be done to death." 2 
" Such a doctrine [on the devil s action], backed by the 
authority of so great a man, took deep root." It would be 
incorrect, writes Kirchhoff, to say, that Luther inaugurated 
a healthier view of " possession " ; on the contrary his 
opinion is, " that, owing to Luther s hard and fast theories, 
the right understanding and treatment of the insane was 
rendered more difficult than ever ; for, if we consider the 
immense spread of his writings and what their influence 
became, it is but natural to infer that this also led to his 
peculiar view becoming popular." 3 Needless to say, other 
circumstances also conspired to render difficult the treat 
ment of the mentally disordered ; long before Luther s day 
they had been regarded by many as possessed, and as the 
physicians would not undertake to cure possessions, this 
condition was neglected by the healing art. In many 
instances, too, the relatives were against any cure being 
attempted by physicians. 

1 Luther to Ebert, Aug. 6, 1536, " Brief wechsel," 11, p. 21. 

2 Kirchhoff is alluding to the case of the " changelings " mentioned 
above, vol. v., p. 292. It is true Luther did not regard them as human 

3 " Allg. Zeitschr. fur Psychiatrie," 44, 1888, p. 329 ft For 
Luther s view of the insane as possessed, see above, vol. v., p. 281. 


4. Revelation and Illusion. Morbid Trains of Thought 

One ground for considering the question of Luther s 
revelations in connection with the darker side of his life 
lies in the gloomy and unearthly circumstances, which, 
according to his own account, accompanied the higher 
communications he received (" sub ceternce irce maledic- 
tione "), 1 or else preceded them, inducing within his soul a 
profound disturbance (" ita furebam" . . .), "I was terrified 
each time." 2 

A further reason is the unfortunate after-effect that the 
supposed revelations from above had upon his mind. Out 
wardly, indeed, he seemed an incarnation of confidence, but, 
inwardly, the case was very different. Chapter xxxii. (vol. v.) 
of the present work will have shown how it was his new 
doctrines, and his overturning of the Church which accounted 
for his " agonies of soul," his " pangs of hell " and " nightly 
combats " with the devil, or rather with his own con 
science. " Why do you raise the standard of revolt against 
the house of the Lord ? . . . Such thoughts upset one 
very much." 3 His irritation, melancholy and pessimism 
were largely due to his disappointment with the results of 
his revelations. " They know it is God Whose Word we 
preach and yet they say : We shan t listen." " We are 
poor and indifferent trumpeters, but to the assembly of the 
heavenly spirits ours is a mighty call." " My only remain 
ing consolation is that the end of all cannot be far off." " It 
must soon come to a head. Amen." 4 And yet, for all that, 
he insisted on his divine mission so emphatically (above, 
vol. iii., p. 109 ff.). 

The revelations which confirmed him in the idea of his 
mission deserve more careful examination than has hitherto 
been possible to us in the course of our narrative. 

That Luther ever laid claim to having received his 
doctrine by a personal revelation from God has been several 
times denied in recent times by his defenders. They urge 
that he merely claimed to have received his doctrine from 
above, " in the same way that God reveals it to all true 
Christians " ; in this and in no other sense, does he speak 

1 See above, p. 128, n. 7. 2 Vol. i., p. 391. 

3 Above, vol. v., p. 322. * Above, vol. v., p. 226 ff. 


of his revelations, nor does he ascribe to himself any 
" peculiar mission." 

It is true Luther taught that the content of the faith to 
which every true Christian adheres had come into the world 
by a revelation bestowed on mankind ; he also taught that 
the Holy Ghost lends His assistance to every man to 
enable him to grasp and hold fast to this revelation : " This 
is a wisdom such as reason has never framed, nor has the 
heart of man conceived it, no, not even the great ones of 
this world, but it is revealed from heaven by the Holy 
Ghost to those who believe the Gospel." 1 This, however, 
is not the question, but rather, whether he never gave out 
that he had reached his own fresh knowledge, and that 
reading of the Bible which he sets up against all the rest of 
Christendom, thanks to a private and particular illumina 
tion, and whether he did not base on such a revelation his 
claim to infallible certainty ? 

Luther s Insistence on Private Revelation 

Luther certainly never dreamt of making so bold and 
hazardous an assertion so long as a spark of hope remained 
in him that the Church of Rome would fall in with his 
doctrines. It was only gradually that the phantom of a 
personal revelation grew upon him, and, even later, its 
sway was never absolute, as we can see from our occasional 
glimpses into his inward struggles of conscience. 

We may begin with one of his latest utterances, following 
it up with one of his earliest. Towards the end of his life he 
insisted on the suddenness with which the light streamed 
in upon him when he had at last penetrated into the mean 
ing of Rom. i. 17 (in the Tower), thus setting the coping- 
stone on his doctrines by that of the certainty of salvation. 2 
Again, at the outset of his public career, we meet with 
those words of which Adolf Harnack says : " Such self- 
reliance almost fills us with anxiety." 3 

The words Harnack refers to are those in which Luther 
solemnly assures his Elector that he had " received the 
Evangel, not from man, but from heaven alone, through 

1 Erl. ed., 9 2 , p. 358 f. 

2 See above, vol. i., p. 391 ff. 

3 Above, vol. i., p. 398. 


our Lord Jesus Christ." This he wrote in 1522 when on the 
point of quitting the Wart burg. 1 

In the same year in his " Wyder den falsch genantten 
geystlichen Standt," full of the spirit he had inhaled at the 
Wartburg, he declared that he could no longer remain 
without " name or title " in order that he might rightly 
honour and extol the " Word, office and work he had from 
God." For the Father of all Mercies, out of the boundless 
riches of His Grace, had brought him, for all his sinfulness, 
"to the knowledge of His Son Jesus Christ and set him to 
teach others until they too saw the truth " ; for this reason 
he had a better right to term himself an " Evangelist by the 
Grace of God " than the bishops had to call themselves 
bishops. " I am quite sure that Christ Himself, Who is the 
Master of my doctrine, calls and regards me as such." 
Hence he will not permit even " an angel from heaven to 
judge or take him to task concerning his doctrine " ; " since 
I am certain of it I am determined to be judge, not only of 
you, but, as St. Paul says (Gal. i. 8), even of the angels, so 
that whoever does not accept my doctrine cannot be saved ; 
for it is God s and not mine, therefore my judgment also is 
not mine but God s own." 2 

Such Wartburg enthusiasm, where all that is wanting is 
the actual word revelation, agrees well with his statement 
about the sort of ultimatum (" Interminatio ") sent him 
by God : " Under pain of eternal wrath it had been enjoined 
on him from above," that he must preach what had been 
given him ; he describes this species of vision as one of 
the greatest favours God had bestowed on his soul. 3 Nor 
did he scruple to make use of the word " revelation." 

The dispute he had with Cochlaeus in the presence of others at 
Worms in 1521 shows not only that he had sufficient courage to 
do this but also, that, previously, from whatever cause, he had 
hesitated to do so. We have Cochlaeus s already quoted account 
of the incident in the detailed report of his encounter with 
Luther. * It is true he only published it in 1540, but it is evidently 
based on notes made by the narrator at the time. In reply to the 
admonition, not to interpret Holy Scripture "arbitrarily, and 
against the authority and interpretation of the Church," Luther 

1 Erl. ed., 53, p. 106 (" Brief wechsel," 3, p. 296, end of Feb., 1522). 
Cp. above, vol. iii., p. 111. 

2 Weim. ed., 10, 2, p. 106 f. ; Erl. ed., 28, p. 143 f. 

3 Lauterbach, " Tagebuch," p. 81 ; above, p. 128, n. 7. 

4 Above, vol. iv., p. 258. 


urged that there might be circumstances where it was per 
missible to oppose the decrees of the Councils, for Paul said in 
1 Corinthians : "If anything be revealed to another sitting, let 
the first hold his peace," 1 though, so Luther proceeded, he had 
no wish to lay claim to a revelation. In the event, however, as 
he was always harking back to this instance of revelation men 
tioned by the Apostle it occurred to Cochlseus to pin him down 
to this expression. Hence, without any beating about the bush, 
he asked him : " Have you then received a revelation ? " 
Luther looked at him, hesitated a moment and then said : " Yes, 
it has been revealed to me, Est mihi revelatum. " His opponent 
at once reminded him that, before this, he had protested against 
being the recipient of any revelation. Luther, however, said : 
" I did not deny it." Cochlseus rejoined : " But who will believe 
that you have had a revelation ? What miracle have you worked 
in proof of it ? By what sign will you confirm it ? Would it not 
be possible for anyone to defend his errors in this way ? " The 
text in question speaks of a direct revelation. It was in this 
sense that Luther had appealed to it before, and that Cochlaeus 
framed his question. It is impossible to understand Luther s 
answer as referring to a revelation common to all true Christians. 
Either Luther made no answer to Cochlaeus s last w r ords or it was 
lost in the interruption of his friend Hieronymus Schurf. 2 In 
any case his position was a difficult one and it was simpler for him 
when he repeated the same assertion later in his printed writings 
quietly to treat all objections with contempt. At any rate he 
never accused the above account given by Cochlaeus of being false. 
Again, in 1522, Luther declares in his sermons at Wittenberg, 3 
that " it was God Who had set him to work on this scheme " (the 
reform of the faith), and had given him the " first place " in it. 
" I cannot escape from God but must remain so long as it pleases 
God my Lord ; moreover, it was to me that God first revealed 
that the Word must be preached and proclaimed to you." Hence 
his revelation was similar to that of the prophets, for he is 
alluding to the prophet Jonas when he says that he could " not 
escape from God." 4 The Wittenbergers, he says, ought there 
fore to have consulted him before rashly undertaking their own 
innovations under Carlstadt s influence : " We see here that 
you have not the Spirit though you may have an exalted know 
ledge of Scripture." 5 Hence, on the top of his knowledge of 
Scripture, he himself possesses the " Spirit." 

1 1 Cor. xiv. 30. The passage, however, refers to the " charismata " 
of the early Church and sets up no sort of standard for judging of 
doctrine in later times. 

2 " Brief wechsel," 3, p. 175 f. Greving, p. 18 f. Cp. Steph. Ehses, 
" Rom. Quartalschrift," 12, 1898, p. 456, on M. Spahn, " Cochlseus," 
p. 81, who criticises Cochlaeus unfavourably because he demanded 
signs and wonders from Luther. 

3 Weim. ed., 10, 3, p. 8 ; Erl. ed., 28, p. 211, from notes taken at 
the time. 

4 Jonas, i., 2 : " Surrexit lonas, utfugeret a facie Domini." 
* " Werke," ib., pp. 11 = 214. 


From the twelvemonth that followed Luther s spiritual 
baptism at the Wartburg also date the asseverations he makes, 
that his doctrine was, not his, but Christ s own, 1 and that it 
was " certain he had his doctrines from heaven." 2 

" By Divine revelation," as we learn from him not long after, 
" he had been summoned as an anti-pope to undo, root out and 
sweep away the kingdom of malediction " (the Papacy). 3 In 
1527 he assures us : This doctrine " God has revealed to me by 
His Grace." 4 And, at a later period, though rather more 
cautiously, he does not shrink from occasionally making use of 
the word revelation. From the pulpit in 1532 he urged opponents 
in his own camp to lay aside their peculiar doctrines, because, 
" God has enjoined and commanded one man to teach the 
Evangel," i.e. himself. 5 

So familiar is this idea to him that it intrudes itself into his 
conversations at home. It was the " Holy Ghost " who had 
" given " to him his doctrine, so he told his friends and pupils 
in his old age. 8 At Wittenberg, according to his own words 
which Mathesius noted down, they possessed, thanks to him, 
the divine revelation. " Whoever, after my death, despises the 
authority of the Wittenberg school, provided it remains the same 
as now, is a heretic and a pervert, for in this school God has 
revealed His Word." He also complains in the same passage 
that the sectarians within the new fold who turned against him 
had fallen away from the faith. 7 

At that time, i.e. during the forties, the idea of an inspiration 
grew stronger in him. He boasts that his understanding of 
Romans i. 17 was due to the " illumination of the Holy Ghost," 
and tells how he suddenly felt himself " completely born anew," 
as if he had passed " through the open portals into Paradise 
itself," and how, " at once, the whole of Scripture bore another 
aspect." 8 

Thus his idea of the revelation with which he had been favoured 
gradually assumed in his mind a more concrete shape. 

1 Weim. ed., 10, 2, p. 40 ; Erl. ed., 28, p. 316 in the revision of the 
above Wittenberg sermon entitled : " Von beider Gestallt des Sacra - 
mentes zu nehmen." 

2 Weim. ed., 10, 2, p. 184 ; " Opp. lat. var.," 6, p. 391 : " Certus 
sum, dogmata mea habere me de ccelo " (against Henry VIII). 

3 Weim. ed., 30, 3, p. 496 ; " Opp. lat. var.," 7, p. 23 : " revelatione 
divina ad hoc vocatus." 

4 Weim. ed., 20, p. 674. The passage is from the Wolfenbiittel MS., 
which reproduces Rorer s Notes (revised, possibly, by Flacius). In 
another set of Notes Luther speaks here of his doctrine as " evangelium 
veritatis" Cp. vol. iv., p. 408 : " not without a revelation of the Holy 

5 Weim. ed., 32, p. 477 ; Erl. ed., 43, p. 263. 

6 Note in Lauterbach s " Tagebuch," p. 81. 

7 Mathesius, " Tischreden," ed. Kroker, p. 169 : " Deus revelavit 
in hac schola verbum suum. Quicumque nos fugiunt et sugillant nos 
clanculum, ii defecerunt a fide," etc. In 1540. 

8 " Opp. lat. var.," 1, p. 22 sq. ; cp. " Opp. lat. exeg.," 7, p. 74. 
Cp. Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 211. 

VI. L 


According to the funeral oration delivered by his friend Jonas 
on Feb. 19, 1546, at Eisleben, Luther often spoke to his friends 
of his revelations, hinting in a vague and mysterious way at the 
sufferings they had entailed. Jonas tells the people in so many 
words, " that Martin himself had often said : What I endure 
and have endured for the doctrine of the beloved Evangel which 
God has again revealed to the world, no one shall learn from me 
here in this world, but on That Day it will be laid open. Only at 
the Last Day will he tell us what during his life he ever kept 
sealed up in his heart, viz. the great victories which the Son of 
God won through him against sin, devil, Papists and false 
brethren, etc. All this he will tell us and also what sublime 
revelations he had when he began to preach the Evangel, so that 
verily we shall be amazed and praise God for them." 1 

Hence Luther had persuaded his friends that he had been 
favoured with particular revelations. 

From all the above it becomes clear that the revelation 
which Luther claimed was regarded by him throughout as 
a true and personal communication from above, and not 
merely as a knowledge acquired by reflection and prayer 
under the Divine assistance common to all. It was in fact 
only by considering the matter in this light that he was 
able effectually to refute the objections of outsiders and 
to allay to some extent the storms within him. The very 
character of his revolt against the Church, against the 
tradition of a thousand years, against the episcopate, 
universities, Catholic princes and Catholic instincts of the 
nation demanded something more than could have been 
afforded by a mere appeal to the revelation common to all. 
Of what service would it have been to him in his struggles 

1 " Luthers Werke," Walch s ed., 21, p. 363* f. Seckendorf, " Com- 
mentaria de Lutheranismo," gives the passage as follows : " Jonas 
scepe eum dixisse memorat, se nemini mortalium aperturum esse, etc., 
fore autem ut in die novissimo innotescant, sicut et revelationes egregice, 
quce sub initium doctrince habuerit et nemini detexerit " (Lips., 1694, 
lib. 3, sect. 36, p. 647). Bugenhagen says in his funeral oration (Walch, 
21, p. 329*), that God the Father had revealed His Son through Luther, 
whilst Melanchthon goes so far as to boast that the latter had received 
his doctrine, not from " human sagacity," but that God had revealed 
it to him (see " Corp. ref.," 6, p. 58 sq., and Kostlin-Kawerau, 2. 
p. 625). The expression that Luther s gospel had been " revealed " 
became quite usual, as we see from the heading of a chapter in the Latin 
" Colloquia," entitled : " Occasio et cursus evangelii revelati " (ed. 
Bindseil, 3, p. 178). Just as Luther asserted he was reforming the 
Church, " divina auctoritate " (" Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 1, p. 16), so 
Calvin, too, claimed to derive his ministry of the Word (which differed 
from that of Luther in so many points) from Christ. Zwingli did the 
same, and his followers cared but little for Luther s claim to the 


of conscience, and when contending with the malice and 
jealousy of the sects, to have laid claim to a vague, general 
revelation ? 

Nevertheless, the appeals Luther makes to the revelation 
he had received are at times somewhat vague, as some of the 
passages quoted serve to prove. We shall not be far wrong 
if we say that he himself was often not quite clear as to 
what he should lay claim. His ideas, or at any rate his 
statements, concerning the exalted communications he had 
received, vary with the circumstances, being, now more 
definite, now somewhat misty. 

Here, as in the parallel case of his belief in his mission, 
his assertions are at certain periods more energetic and 
defiant than at others (see above, vol. iii., p. 120 ff.). 

However this may be, the idea of a revelation in the 
strict sense was no mere passing whim ; it emerges at its 
strongest under the influence of the Wartburg spirit, and, 
once more, summons up all its forces towards the end of his 
days, when Luther seeks for comfort amid his sad experi 
ences and for some relief in his weariness. Yet, in him, the 
idea of a revelation always seems a matter of the will, 
something which he can summon to his assistance and to 
which he deliberately hold fasts, and which, as occasion 
requires, is decked out with the necessary adjuncts of angels 
descending from heaven, visions, spirits, inward experiences, 
inward menaces, or triumphs over the temptations of the 

Some Apparent Withdrawals 

Various apparently contradictory statements, such as 
the reader must expect to meet with in Luther, are not, 
however, wanting, even concerning his revelations. 

Discordant statements of the sort do not, indeed, occur in 
the passages, where, as in the quotations given above, he is 
defending his theological innovations against the authority 
of the Church. Often they are a mere rhetorical trick to 
impress his hearers with his modesty. In his sermons at 
Wittenberg in 1522, for instance, he declared that he was 
perfectly willing to submit his " feeling and understanding " 
to anyone to whom " more has been revealed " ; by this, 
however, he does not mean his doctrine but merely the 
practical details of the introduction of the new ritual of 


public worship, then being discussed at Wittenberg. This 
is clear from the very emphasis he here lays on his teaching, 
thanks to which the Wittenbergers now have the " Word of 
God true and undefiled," and from his description of the 
devil s rage who now sees that " the sun of the true Evangel 
has risen." 1 

Again, when, in his later revision of the same course of 
sermons, we hear him say : " You must be disciples, not of 
Luther, but of Christ," 2 and : " You must not say I am 
Luther s, or I am the Pope s, for neither has died for you 
nor is your master, but only Christ," 3 he has not the least 
intention of denying the authority of the doctrine revealed 
to him, on the contrary, on the same page, he has it that, 
" Luther s doctrine is not his but Christ s own " ; 4 he had 
already said, " Even were Luther himself or an angel from 
heaven to teach otherwise, let it be anathema." 5 He is 
simply following St. Paul s lead 6 and pointing out to his 
hearers the supreme source of truth ; he still remains its 
instrument, the " Prophet," " Evangelist " and " Ecclesi- 
astes by the grace of God," favoured, like the inspired 
Apostle of the Gentiles, with revelations. 

Nevertheless, we cannot shut our eyes to the fact, that, 
subsequent to 1525, Luther tended at times to be less 
insistent on his revelations. From strategic considerations 
he was careful to keep more in the background his revela 
tions from the Spirit now that the fanatics were also claiming 
their own special enlightenment by the " Spirit." His 
eyes were now opened to the danger inherent in such 
arbitrary claims to revelation, and, accordingly, he now 
begins to insist more on the outward " Word." 7 

It is true, that, in Nov., 1525, in refutation of the 
Zwinglian theologians of Strasburg, he still appealed not 
merely to his visions of angels (see above, p. 127) but also 
to the certain light of his doctrine inspired by the Holy 
Ghost, and to his sense of the " Spirit." " I see very well," 
he says, " that they have no certainty, but the Spirit is 

1 Weim. ed., 10, 3, p. 8 f . ; Erl. ed., 28, p. 212. 

2 76., 10, 2, p. 23 = 28, p. 298. 

3 P. 40 = 316. 4 Ib. 
5 P. 23 = 298; op. Gal. i. 28. 

* Paul forbade his disciples to say : " Ego sum Pauli," and asked : 
" Numquid Paulus crucifixus est pro vobis ? " (1 Cor. i. 12 sq.). 
7 Cp. above, vol. ii., p. 363 ff. 


certain of His cause." 1 Even then, however, a change had 
begun and he preferred to appeal to Holy Scripture, which, 
so he argued, spoke plainly in his favour, rather than to 
inspirations and revelations. Hence his asseveration that 
this outward Word of God has much more claim to con 
sideration than the inward Word, which can so easily be 
twisted to suit one s frame of mind. He now comes unduly 
to depreciate the inward Word and the Spirit which formerly 
he had so highly vaunted, though, on the other hand, he 
continues to teach that the Spirit and the inward enlighten 
ing of the Word are necessary for the interpretation of Holy 

His Commentary on Isaias contains a delightful attack 
on the " ail-too spiritual folk, who, to-day, cry Spirit, 
Spirit ! " " Let us not look for any private revelations. It 
is Christ who tells us to search the Scriptures [John v. 39]. 
Revelations puff us up and make us presumptuous. I have 
not been instructed," so he goes on, " either by signs or by 
special revelations, nor have I ever begged signs of God ; on 
the contrary I have asked Him never to let me become 
proud, or be led astray from the outward Word through the 
devil s tricks." He then launches out against those who 
pretend they have "particular revelations on the faith," 
being " misled by the devil." These words occur in the 
revised and enlarged Scholia on Isaias published in 1534. 
It may, however, be that they did not figure in Luther s 
lectures on Isaias (1527-30) but were appended somewhat 
later. 2 

After thus apparently disowning any title to private 
revelation and a higher light Luther s inevitable appeal to 
the certainty of his doctrine only becomes the more confident. 
Thanks to his temptations and death-throes, he had become 
so certain, that he can declare : Possessed of the " Word " 
as I am, I have not the least wish " that an angel should 
come to me, for, now, I should not believe him." 

" Nevertheless, the time might well come," so he con 
tinues in this passage of the Table-Talk, " when I might be 
pleased to see one [an angel] on certain matters." " I do 
not, however, admit dreams and signs, nor do I worry about 
them. We have in Scripture all that we require. Sad 

1 In Casel s account, Kolde, " Anal. Lutherans," p. 74. 

2 Weim. ed. ; 25, p. 120 ; cp. " Opp. lat. exeg.," 22, p. 93 sq. 


dreams come from the devil, for everything that ministers 
to death and dread, lies and murder is the devil s handi 
work." 1 

It is true Luther was often plagued by terrifying dreams, 
and as he numbered them among his " anxieties and death- 
throes " what he says about them may fittingly be utilised 
to complete the picture of his inward state. To such an 
extent was the devil able to affright him, so he says, that he 
" broke out into a sweat in the midst of his sleep " ; thus 
" Satan was present even when men slept ; but angels too 
were also there." 2 He assures us, that, in his sleep, he had 
witnessed even the horrors of the Last Judgment. 

The " Temptations " as one of Luther s Bulwarks 

The states of terror and the temptations he underwent 
were to Luther so many confirmations of his doctrine. Some 
of his utterances on this subject ring very oddly. 

To be " in deaths often " was, according to him, a sort of 
" apostolic gift," shared by Peter and Paul. In order to be 
a doctor above suspicion, a man must have experienced the pains 
of death and the " melting of the bones." In the Psalms he 
hears, as it were, an echo of his own state of soul. " To despair 
where hope itself despairs," and " to live in unspeakable groan- 
ings," " this no one can understand who has not tasted it." 
This he said in 1520 in a Commentary on the Psalms. 3 And, 
later, in 1530, when engaged at the Coburg in expounding the 
first twenty-five psalms : " My heart is become like wax 
melting in the midst of my bowels [Ps. xxi. 15]. What that was 
no one grasps who has not felt it." 4 "In such trouble there must 
needs be despair, but, if I say : This I do simply and solely at 
God s command, there comes the assurance : Hence God will 
take your part and comfort you. It was thus we consoled our 
selves at Augsburg." 5 

Many others who followed him were also overtaken by similar 
distress of mind. Struggles of conscience and gloomy depression 
were the fate of many who flocked to his standard (cp. above, 
vol. iv., pp. 218-27). Johann Mathesius, Luther s favourite pupil, 
so frequently referred to above, towards the end of his life, when 
pastor at Joachimsthal, once declared, when brooding sadly, 
that the devil with his temptations was sifting him as it were in 

1 Mathesius, " Aufzeichn.," p. 49 ; cp. above, vol. v., p. 352. 
Above, vol. v., pp. 339 f., 319, 328. Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 176. 

2 Above, vol. v., p. 327 f. 

3 Weim. ed.. 5, p. 385. -i Operationes in Psalmos," 1519-21. 

4 Erl. ed., 38, p. 225. 5 /&., p. 221. 


a sieve and that he was enduring the pangs of hell described by 
David. The very mention of a knife led him to think of suicide. 
He was eager to hold fast to Christ alone, but this he could not do. 
After the struggle had lasted two or three months his condition 
finally improved. 1 

Such were Luther s temptations, of which, afterwards, he did 
not scruple to boast. " Often did they bring us to death s 
door," he says of the mental struggles in which his new doctrine 
and practice of sheltering himself behind the merits of Christ 
involved him. But, nevertheless, "I will hold fast to that Man 
alone, even though it should bring me to the grave ! " 2 

Again, in 1532, we hear him making his own the words : " Out 
of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord " (Ps. cxxix. 1). 
The prophet is not complaining of any mere " worldly tempta 
tions," but of " that anguish of conscience, of those blows and 
terrors of death such as the heart feels when on the brink of 
despair and when it fancies itself abandoned by God ; when it 
both sees its sin and how all its good works are condemned by 
God the angry Judge. . . . When a man is sunk in such anxiety 
and trouble he cannot recover unless help is bestowed on him 
from above. . . . Nearly all the great saints suffered in this way 
and were dragged almost to the gates of death by sin and the 
Law ; hence David s exclamation : Out of the depths have I 
cried unto thee, O Lord ! " The whole trend of what he says, 
likewise the counsels he gives on the remedies that may bring 
consolation, show plainly his attachment to this dark night of the 
soul and his conviction that he is but treading in the footsteps of 
the " great Saints " and " Prophets." 3 

At any rate there is no room for doubt that this opened 
out a rich field for delusion ; what he says depicts a frame 
of mind in which hallucinations might well thrive ; we shall, 
however, leave it to others to determine how far patho 
logical elements intervene. 

In the certainty that his cause was inspired he calmly 
awaits the approach of the fanatics ; they can serve only to 
strengthen in him his sense of confidence. Of them and 
their " presumptuous certainty " he makes short work in a 
conversation noted down by Cordatus : 4 Marcus Thomae 
(Stiibner) he requests to perform a miracle in proof of his 
views, warning him, however, that " My God will assuredly 
forbid your God to let you work a sign " ; he also hurls 
against him the formula of exorcism : " God rebuke thee, 

1 See vol. iv., p. 222. 

"Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 1, p. 53; cp. Erl. ed., 49, p. 91, on 
John xiv.-xv. 

3 " Opp. lat. exeg.," 20, p. 181 sq. Enarr. ps. cxxx. ; cp. Woim. ed., 
1, p. 206 ff. ; Erl. ed., 37, p. 420 ff. 

4 Cordatus, " Tagebuch," p. 27 f. 


Satan " (Zach. iii. 2). 1 Nicholas Storch and Thomas 
Miinzer, so he assures us, openly show their presumption. 
A pupil of Stiibner was anxious to set himself up as a 
teacher, but the fellow had only been able to talk fantastic 
rubbish to him. Of people such as these he had come across 
quite sixty. Campanus, again, is simply to be numbered 
among the biggest blasphemers. Carlstadt, who wanted to 
be esteemed learned, was only distinguished by his arrogant 
mouthing. Nowhere was there profundity or truth. " Not 
one of you has endured such anxieties and temptations as 
I." 2 " And yet Carlstadt wanted us to bow to his teaching. 
. . . Like Christ, however, I say : My doctrine is not mine 
but his that sent me (John vii. 16). I cannot betray it as 
the world would have me do. The malice of all these 
ministers of Satan only serves my cause and exercises me in 
indomitable firmness." 3 Hence he derives equal benefit 
from the malice of his opponents within the fold and from 
the inward apprehensions of which Satan was the cause. 

The manifold errors which had sprung from the seed of his 
own principles, in any other man would have elicited doubts 
and scruples ; Luther, however, finds in them fresh support 
for his dominating conviction : My glorious sufferings at 
the devil s hands are being multiplied and, thereby, too, the 
witness on behalf of my doctrine is being strengthened. 

The mystical halo of the " man|of suffering " certainly 
made a great impression on some offhis young followers and 
admirers such as Spangenberg, Mathesius, Cordatus and 
Veit Dietrich. On others of his circle the effect was not so 

Melanchthon, for instance, was well acquainted with 
Luther s fits of mystic terror, yet how severe is the criticism 
he passes on Luther s ground-dogmas, particularly after the 
latter s death. 

The doctrine of man s entire unfreedom in doing what is 
good may serve as an instance. 

This palladium of the new theology had been discovered 
by Luther when overwhelmed with despair ; by it he 
sought to commit himself entirely into God s hands and 
blindly and passively to await salvation from Him ; this he 

1 On Marcus, cp. Weim. ed., 61, pp. 1, 73. 

2 Cp. vol. ii., pp. 377 f., 371 f., and, with regard to Campanus, p. 378. 

3 Cordatus, ib., p. 28. 


regarded as the only way out of inward trials ; no man could 
face the devil with his free will ; he himself, so he wrote, 
" would not wish to have " free-will, even were it offered 
him (" nollem mihi dari liberum arbitrium "), in order that 
he might at least be safe from the devil; nay, even were 
there no devil, free-will would still be to him an abomination, 
because, with it, his " conscience would never be safe and 
at rest." The words occur in the work he declared to be his 
very best and a lasting heirloom for posterity. 1 This par 
ticular doctrine, Melanchthon was, however, so far from 
regarding as a " revelation," that he wrote in 1559 : " Both 
during Luther s lifetime and also later, I withstood that 
Stoical and Manichsean delusion which led Luther and 
others to write, that all works whether good or evil, in all 
men whether good or bad, take place of necessity. Now it 
is evident that this doctrine is contrary to God s Word, 
subversive of all discipline and a blasphemy against God." 2 
Melanchthon did not even scruple to call upon the State 
to intervene and prohibit such things being said. In his 
Postils, dealing with the question whether heretics should 
be put to death, he declares : " By divine command the 
public authorities must proceed against idolaters and also 
interdict blasphemous language, as, for instance, when a 
man teaches that good or evil takes place of necessity and 
under compulsion." 3 

He could not well have said anything more deadly against 
the foundation on which Luther s whole edifice was reared. 

In spite of all, Luther always stood by his pseudo-mystic 
idea of his having received revelations. Without it he could 
never have ventured to threaten as he did the secular and 
ecclesiastical authorities who opposed his dogmas, with 
" extermination " and " great revolts," or to proclaim so 
confidently that they would fall, blown over by the breath 
of Christ s mouth, or to prophesy that, even beyond the 
grave, he would be to the impenitent Papists, what, accord 
ing to the prophet Osee, God threatened to be to Israel, 
viz. " a bear in the road and a lion in the path." 4 

1 Weim. ed., 18, p. 783=^" Opp. lat. var.," 7, p. 362. " De servo 
arbitrio." See vol. ii.. p. 276. 

2 To the Elector Augustus of Saxony, " Corp. ref.," 9, p. 766 : 
" Stoica et manichcea deliria." Cp. vol. v., p. 258. 

3 Ib., 24, p. 375 ; cp. N. Paulus, " Protestantismua und Tolerant ion 
16. Jahrh.," p. 81. 

* Cp. vol. iii., pp. 45, 75 f., 125 f. 


His whole process of thought was, as it were, held captive 
in the heavy chains of this idea. 

Three Perverted Theories Dominating Luther s Outlook 

In order to enter even more deeply into Luther s mentality 
three categories of ideas by which he determined his life well 
deserve consideration here. Only at the point we have now 
reached can some of his statements be judged of aright. 

Among his strange ideas must be reckoned his threefold 
conviction, first, that he was called to be the opponent of 
Antichrist, secondly, that Popery was a thing of boundless 
and utter depravity, thirdly, that in his own personal 
experiences and gifts he was blessed beyond all other men. 
Here again we shall have to refer to many passages already 
quoted and also to some fresh ones of Luther s which afford 
a glimpse into his perverted mode of thought and incredible 

His obstinate belief in his mission against Antichrist keeps 
the thought of a mortal combat ever before his mind ; a 
decisive battle at the approaching end of all, between 
heaven and hell, between Christ and the dragon. This 
struggle, such as he viewed it, needless to say existed only 
in his imagination. If, according to him, the devil fights 
so furiously that at times Christ Himself seems on the point 
of succumbing, this is only because Luther s cause does not 
thrive, or because Luther himself is again the butt of gloomy 
fears. As early as 1518, as we know, he fancied he had 
detected the Papal Antichrist, and could read the thoughts of 
Satan, who was at work V^hind his opponents. 1 In this 
idea he subsequently confirmed himself by his reading of the 
Old-Testament prophecies, on which, till almost the very 
end of his life, he was wont laboriously to base new calcula 
tions. From the dawn of his career it has been borne in on 
him with ever-growing clearness how Christ, using Luther 
as His tool, will overthrow, as though in sport, this " man 
of sin " of which Popery is the embodiment ; at the very 

1 On his discovery of Antichrist see above, vol. iii., p. 141 ff. He 
reached it amidst strange fears : " Ego sic angor," etc. To Spalatiii, 
Feb. 24, 1520, " Brief wechsel," 2, p. 332. On the thoughts of Satan 
see the letter to Egranus of March 24, 1518, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 173 : 
" Nisi cogitationes Satance scirem, mirarer quo furore ille [Eccius] 
solver et" etc. 


close of his days, when the sight of the evils rampant in 
Germany was causing him the utmost anxiety, he seems to 
hear the trump that heralds the Coming of the Judge. 

Using images that suggest a positive obsession, he depicts 
the world as full of the traces of Antichrist and the devil his 
forerunner. Yet all the machinations of the old serpent 
avail only to strengthen the defiance with which he opposes 
Satan and all his myrmidons. The signs in the heavens 
above and on the earth below all point to him, the great, 
albeit unworthy, champion of God s cause. Though Anti 
christ and the powers that are his backers in this world may 
for the time have the better of the struggle this is but the 
last flicker of the dying flame which, by prophecy and 
vision, he had been predestined to extinguish (above, vol. iii., 
p. 165 ff., etc.). 

Hence his confidence in unveiling the action of Antichrist 
as portrayed in the birth of the Monk-Calf ; like some seer he 
hastens to pen a special work for the instruction of the people 
in the meaning of the Calf s anatomy. 1 His growing uncanny 
imagination goes on to describe, in colours more and more 
glaring, the abominations of that Antichrist from whom he 
has torn the veil. The fury of the Turk is but child s play 
to the horror of the Papal Antichrist. That portion of the 
Table-Talk which deals with Antichrist, comprising no less 
than 165 sections brimful of the maddest fancies, begins 
with the description of Antichrist s head. " The head is at 
the same time the Pope and the Turk. A living animal 
must have both soul and body. The spirit or soul of Anti 
christ is the Pope, his flesh or body the Turk " ; 2 the con 
cluding words on the subject are in the same vein : " The 
blood of Abel cries for vengeance on them," viz. on the 
followers of the Pope- Antichrist. 3 These chapters of the 
Table-Talk dealing with Antichrist scarcely do credit to the 
human mind. We can, however, understand them, for to 
Luther nothing is plainer than that the " nature of his foes 
is utterly devilish " ; all he sees is the claws, paws, horns 
and poison-fangs of Antichrist. 4 

Luther revealed the anti-Christian nature of the Pope, 
in accordance with the prophet Daniel whom he read on 

1 Vol. iii., p. 149 ff. 2 Cp. above, vol. iv., p. 301. 

3 Erl. ed., 60, pp. 176-311. 

4 Cp. his statement in Schlaginhaufen s Table-Talk, p. 56 : " Adver- 
sariorum verbi natura non est humana, sed plane diabolica " (1532). 


the principle : " Sic volo, sic iubeo, sit pro ratione voluntas " ; 
" Nevertheless we attach but little importance to our 
deliverance and are very ungrateful. This, however, is our 
consolation, viz. that the Last Day cannot now be long 
delayed. Daniel s prophecy is fulfilled to the letter and 
paints the Papacy as plainly as though it had been written 
post factum." 1 

In spite of Antichrist and " all that is mighty " the 
Article concerning Holy Scripture and the Cross still holds 
the field. And, so Luther proceeds in the Table-Talk, " I, a 
poor monk, had to come," with " an unfortunate nun " 
[Catherine Bora who doubtless was present], and " seize 
upon it and hold it. Thus 4 verbum and crux are the 
conquerors ; they make us confident." 2 

The reason why Luther longed with such ardour for the 
coming of the Last Day has already been shown to have 
been his growing pessimism and the depression resulting 
from the sad experiences with which he had met (above, 
vol. v., p. 245 ff.). In his elastic way he, however, manages, 
when preaching to the people, to give a rather different 
reason for his prediction of the fall of Antichrist and the 
coming of the end. In Popery, he declares, we were not 
allowed to speak of the Last Judgment ; " how we dreaded 
it " ; "we pictured Christ to ourselves as a Judge to Whom 
we had to give account. To that we came, thanks to our 
works." But now it is quite otherwise. " Now on the 
contrary I should be glad if the Last Day were to come, 
because there is no greater consolation." 3 Here he speaks 
as though inspired solely by the purest of intentions when 
he looked forward to the coming of the vanquisher of 

The wickedness of his opponents and the weapons to be 
used against them constitute a second group of ideas. Here, 

1 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 404 f. (Jan., 1537), with reference 
to Dan. xi. 36 ; xii. 1. The " Sic volo," etc., from Juvenal, " Sat.," 6, 
223, he applies to himself, above, vol. v., p. 517. 

2 Mathesius, ib., p. 293. In 1542-3. The picture given at the 
beginning of this portion of the Table-Talk of how Luther the " monk " 
and Catherine the " nun " seated at table after dinner raise the cross 
hand-in-hand against Antichrist and say : " Post scripturam non 
habemus firmius argumentum quam crucem!" speaks volumes for their 

3 Weim. ed., 34, 2, p. 410, in a sermon of Nov. 1, 1531. 


once again, the psychological or pathological appreciation 
of Luther s strange and morbid train of thought makes 
imperative a further investigation of certain points already 
discussed in other connections. 

Often Luther seems unable to stem the torrent of charges 
and insults that streams from him as soon as adversaries 
appear in his field of vision. Frequently it almost looks 
as though some superhuman agency outside himself had 
opened the sluice-gates of his terrible eloquence. He is 
determined to rage against them " even to the very grave " ; 
his wrath against them " refreshes his blood." It is actually 
when expressing his hatred in the most incredible language 
that he is most sensible of the " nearness of God." Do not 
his Popish foes deserve even worse than he, a mere man, is 
able to heap on them ? Those scoundrels who " only seek 
a pretext for telling lies against us and misleading simple 
folk, though quite well aware that they are in the wrong." 1 
Their palpable obstinacy, in spite of their better judgment, 
was so great, so he argued, that it was only because Luther 
advocated it that they refused to hear of any moral reform, 
for instance, of the clergy marrying, etc., otherwise they 
would have held it " quite all right." He does not shrink 
from demanding that such roguery should " be hunted down 
with hounds," no less than the wickedness of these " most 
depraved of brothel-keepers, open adulterers, stealers of 
women and seducers of maidens." 2 

The most curious thing, however, one, too, that must 
weigh heavily in the balance when judging of his mental 
state, is that, as shown elsewhere, by dint of repeating this 
he actually came to believe that his caricature of Catholicism 
was perfectly true to fact. The calumnies become part of 
his mental framework, the very frequency and heat of his 
charges blinding him to all sense of their enormity, and 
clouding his outlook. What is even worse is, that, even 
when he occasionally glimpses the truth he yet believes it 
lawful to deviate from it where this suits his purpose. Thus 
he came to formulate the dangerous theory of the lie of neces 
sity and the useful lie which we have already described in his 
own words. He goes so far as to say, that the nature of his 
foes was utterly devilish (above, p. 155, n. 4), and, when assail- 

1 Erl. ed., 63, p. 276. On his abnormal hatred see vol. iv., p. 300 f. 

2 76. 


ing the wickedness of Popery, he considers " everything 
lawful for the salvation of souls " (" omnia nobis licere 
arbitramur "). 1 Our "tricks, lies and stumblings" may 
" easily be atoned for, for God s Mercy watches over us." 2 

On other occasions his opponents become " a pack of 
fools " ; they deserve nothing but scorn and no heed should 
be paid to their objections. Even should the world write 
against him he will only pity them. All earlier ages and 
" a thousand Fathers and Councils of the Church " cannot 
rob him of the golden grains of truth which he alone 

No sooner does he speak of the Papists and their religion, 
than, irresistibly, there rises up before his mind the picture 
of the "tonsures, cowls, frocks and bawling in the choir," in 
short the so-called holiness-by-works, on which he seizes to 
load ridicule on all that is Popish. 

This Luther is apt to do even when treating of subjects quite 
alien to this sort of polemics. 

In his "Von den Conciliis und Kirchen " (1539) he has a 
lengthy dissertation on the marks of the Church ; the subject 
being a wide one he is anxious to get on with it, yet, even so, his 
pen again and again wanders off into vituperation. He apostro 
phises himself incidentally as follows : " But how is it that I 
come again to speak of the infamous, filthy menials of the Pope ? 
Let them begone, and, for ever," etc. With these words he breaks 
off a wild outburst in which he had declared that the Pope and 
his men were persecuting the Word of God, i.e. Luther s doctrine, 
" though well aware of its truth ; very bad Apostles, Evangelists 
and Prophets must they be, like the devil and his angels." 3 

Yet, on the very next page, the same subject crops up again. 
A lay figure serves to introduce it. To him Luther says : " There 
you come again dragging in your Pope with you, though I wanted 
to have no more to do with you. Well, as you insist on annoying 
me with your unwelcome presence I shall give you a thoroughly 
Lutheran reception." He then proceeds to enlarge in " Lutheran" 
fashion on the fact, that the Pope " condemns the wedded life 
of the bishops and priests." " If a man has seduced a hundred 
maidens, violated a hundred honourable widows and has besides 

1 To Lang, Aug. 18, 1520, " Brief wechsel," 2, p. 461. 

2 Cp. vol. iv., p. 95 f. My belief that in the passage in question in 
Luther s letter to Melanchthon of Aug. 28, 1530 (" Brief wechsel, 1 8, 
p. 235), the word " mendacia " should be read after " doles," as in the 
oldest Protestant editions, has since received confirmation from P. 
Sinthern in the " Zeitschr. f. kath. TheoL," 1912, p. 180 ff., where the 
quotations from Johann Lorenz Doller, " Luthers katholisches Monu 
ment/ PVankfurt-am-Main, 1817, p. 309 ff., are set forth in their true 
light. 3 Erl. ed., 25 2 , p. 425. 


a hundred prostitutes behind him, he is allowed to be not merely 
a preacher or parson but even a bishop or Pope, and though he 
keeps on in his evil ways he would still be tolerated in such an 
office." " Are you not mad and foolish ? Out on you, you rude 
fools and donkeys ! . . . Truly Popes and bishops are fine 
fellows to be the bridegrooms of the Churches. Better suited 
were they to be the bridegrooms of female keepers of bawdy 
houses, or of the devil s own daughter in hell ! True bishops are 
the servants of this bride and she is their wife and mistress." 
According to you " matrimony is unclean, and a merdiferous 
sacrament which cannot please God " ; at the same time it is 
supposed to be right and a sacrament. " See how the devil 
cheats and befools you when he teaches you such twaddle ! " 
Further on he begins anew : "To violate virgins, widows and 
married women, to keep many prostitutes and to commit all sorts 
of hidden sins, this he is free to do, and thereby becomes worthy 
of the priestly calling ; but this is the sum total of it all : The 
Pope, the devil and his Church are enemies to the married state 
as Dan. (xi. 37) says, and are determined to abuse it in this way 
so that the priestly office may not thrive. This amounts to say 
ing that the state of matrimony is adulterous, sinful, impure 
and abominated of God." 

Bidding farewell to Popery, Luther gives it a truly " Lutheran " 
send off : " So for the present let us be done with the Ass-Pope 
and the Pope-Ass, and all his asinine lawyers. We will now get 
back to our own affairs." 

This, however, he only partially succeeds in doing. After 
discussing the 6th and 7th mark of the Church the " spirit " 
once more seizes him. The caricature of Popery with which he 
is wont to pacify his conscience here again figures with the 
whole of the inevitable paraphernalia : " [Holy] water, salt, 
herbs, tapers, bells, images, Agnus Dei, pallia, altar, chasubles, 
tonsures, fingers, hands. Who can enumerate them all ? Finally 
the monks cowls," etc. A page further we again read : " Holy 
water, Agnus Dei, bulls, briefs, Masses and monks cowls. . . . 
The devil has decked himself out in them all." 

Weary as he is at the end of the lengthy work, he is still 
anxious to " tread under foot the Pope, as Psalm xci. [xc., 
verse 13] says : Thou shalt walk upon the asp and the basilisk, 
and shalt trample under foot the lion and the dragon ; this we 
will do with the help and strength of the Seed of the woman 
that has crushed and still crushes the serpent s head, albeit we 
know that he will turn and bite our heel. To the same blessed 
Seed of the woman be all praise and glory together with the 
Father and the Holy Ghost, One True God and Lord for ever and 
ever. Amen." 

Here, in the few pages we have selected for quotation, the 
whole psychological Luther-problem unrolls itself. 

In the pictures his imagination conjures up, the sacrifice 
of the Mass the most sacred mystery of Catholic worship 


occupies a special place. It is the idolatrous abomination 
foretold by the prophet, or rather the idol Moasim itself 
(above, vol. iv., p. 524). One wonders whether he really 
succeeded in persuading himself that his greatest sin, a sin 
that cried to heaven for vengeance and deserved eternal 
damnation (above, p. 136; cp. vol. iv., p. 509), was his 
having as a monk and at a time when he knew no better 
celebrated the sacrifice of the Mass ? It is true that, in the 
solemn profession he makes of his belief in the Sacrament 
(1528), when resolved to confess his faith " before God and 
the whole world," he says : " These were my greatest sins, 
that I was such a holy monk and for over fifteen years 
angered, plagued and martyred my dear Master so grue- 
somely by my many Masses." The words occur at the close 
of his "Vom Abendmal Christi Bekentnis," with the 
asseveration, that he would stand firm in this faith to the 
very end ; " and were I, which God forbid, under stress of 
temptation or in the hour of death to say otherwise, then 
[what I might say] must be accounted as nought and I 
hereby openly proclaim it to be false and to come from the 
devil. So help me My Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ Who 
is blessed for ever and ever. Amen." 1 

According to what he once remarked in 1531 (above, 
p. 136 f.) it was, however, not the devil who was prompting 
him to despair by calling up his crying sin of having said 
Mass. If Luther is indeed telling the truth, and if his doings 
as a zealous monk really seemed to him to be his worse sins, 
then we can only marvel at his confusion of mind having 
gone so far. From other admissions we should rather 
gather that what disquieted his conscience was more the 
subversion of the olden worship, the ruin of the religious life 
and, in fact, the whole working of the innovations. And 
yet, here, we have a solemn assurance that the very contrary 
was the case. 

It is in itself a problem how he contrives to make such 
frightful sins of his monastic life into which, on his own 
showing, he had entered in ignorance and of the Masses 
which he had said all unaware of their wickedness. 

But, in his polemics, such is the force with which he is 
swept along, that he does not pause to consider his blatant 
self-contradictions, or how much he is putting himself at the 

1 Weim. ed., 26, p. 509 ; Erl. ed., 30, p. 372 f. 


mercy of his opponents, or how inadequately his rhetoric and 
all his playing to the gallery hides the lack of valid proofs 
and the deficiencies of his reading of Scripture. 

As for his foes, in his mind s eye he sees them wavering and 
falling, blown over, as it were, by the strength of his reason 
ing, even when they are not overtaken and slain by the 
righteous judgment of God. When need arises he has ready 
a list of deaths, particularly of sudden ones, by which oppo 
nents had been snatched away. 1 The " blessed upheaval," 
however, which is one day to carry them all off together, is, 
so at least his morbid fancy tells him, still delayed by his 

As for himself personally, he stood under the spell of a 
train of thought displaying pathological symptoms, which, 
taken in the lump, must raise serious questions as to the 
nature of his changing mental state. 

Being chosen by God for such great things, being not 
merely the " prophet of the Germans " but also destined to 
bring back the Gospel to the whole Christian world, Provi 
dence, in his opinion, has equipped him with qualities such 
as have hitherto rarely graced a man. This he does not tire 
of repeating, albeit he ever refers his gifts to God. He is 
fond of comparing himself not merely with the Popish 
doctors of his day but also with the most famous of bygone 
time. In the same way he is fond of measuring foes within 
the fold by the standard of his own greatness. He is thus 
betrayed into utterances such as one usually hears only from 
those affected with megalomania ; this sort of thing pleases 
him so well, that, intent on his own higher mission, he fails 
to see the bad taste of certain of his exaggerations and how 
repulsive their tone is. 2 

God at all times has saved His Church " by means of 
individuals and for the sake of a few " ; this Luther pointed 
out to his friends in 1540, instancing Adam, Abraham, 
Moses, Elias, Isaias, Augustine, Ambrose and others. " God 
also did something by means of Bernard and now again 
through me, the new Jeremias. And so the end draws 

1 Vol. iv., p. 304. 

2 See vol. iv., p. 327 ff., and the remark of Harnack, ib., p. 340 f. : 
" Either he suffered from the mania of greatness or his self-reliance 
really corresponded with his task and achievements." 

VI. M 


nigh ! " l The end, however, for which he has made every 
thing ready, may now come quite peacefully and speedily, 
for he has not merely done " something," but " everything 
that pertains to the knowledge of God has been restored " ; 
" the Gospel has been revealed and the Last Day is at the 
door." 2 

Fancying himself the passive tool of Divine Providence, 
it becomes lawful for him deliberately to scatter over the 
world his literary bomb-shells, exclaiming : God wills it, 
for, did He not, He could prevent it ! He flings broadcast 
atrocious charges of a character to arouse men s worst 
passions, and, at the same time, writes to his friends : If it 
is too much, God at our prayer must provide a remedy. 3 
Hence it is God Who must bear the blame for everything, 
seeing that He works through Luther. God made him a 
Doctor of Holy Scripture, let Him therefore see to it. 

He " throws down the keys at the door " of God when the work 
goes ill. Why did He will it ? "I cannot stop the course of 
events," he says somewhat more truly in 1525, " for matters have 
gone too far " ; he adds, however : "I will shut my eyes and 
leave God to act ; He will do as He pleases." 4 

This way of thinking was nothing new in Luther, but may be 
traced in his earliest literary efforts, which only shows how deeply 
it was rooted in his mind. " In all I do I wish to be led, not by 
the rede and deed of man, but by the rede and deed of God ! " so 
he said in 1517, when declining the advice of those who only 
wished to serve his best interests ; yet, in the same letter in 
which these words occur, he confesses his " precipitancy, pre 
sumption and prejudice," qualities " on account of which he was 
blamed by all." 5 

Later, too, as we know, he saw in things both great and small 
the hand of God at work in him ; all his efforts and even his 
very mistakes were God s, not his. It was by God that, while yet 
a monk, he had been " forcibly torn from the Hours," 6 i.e. freed 

1 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 210. 

2 Ib., p. 308 (1540). Cp. above, vol. v., p. 241 ff. 

3 To Lang : " Sitne libellus meus [De captivitate babylonica] tarn 
atrox et ferox tu videris et alii omnes, Libertate et impetu fateor plenus 
est, multis tainen placet, nee aulce nostrce penitus displicet. Ego de me in 
his rebus nihil statuere possum. Forte ego prcecursor sum Philippi 
[Melanchthonis], cui exemplo Helice viam parem in spiritu et virtu te. 
conturbaturus Israel et Achabitas [cp. 1 Kings xviii. 17] oratione itaque 
opus erit, si quid peccatum est." A little later he says of Antichrist : 
" Odi ego ex corde hominem ilium peccati et filium perditionis [2 Thes. 
ii. 3] cum universo suo imperio." 

4 In Casel s report (Nov. 29, 1525), Kolde, "Anal. Lutherana," p. 74. 

5 To Lang, Nov. 11, 1517, " Briefwechsel," 1, p. 126. 

6 Schlaginhaufen, " Aufzeichn.," p. 6. 


from the duty of reciting the Divine Office ; God had led him like 
a blinkered charger into the midst of the battle ; it was God, 
again, Who had " flung him into matrimony " and Who had laid 
upon him, the " wonderful monk," the burden of preaching to 
the great ones and the tenor of his message. " Hence you ought 
to believe my word absolutely . . . but, even to this day, people 
do not believe that my preaching is the Word of God. . . . But, 
on it I will stake my soul, that I preach the true and pure Word 
of God, and for it I am also ready to die. ... If you believe it 
you will be saved, if you don t you will be damned." 1 

Seeing the tumults and disorders that had arisen through him, 
he cries : " It is the Lord Who does this " ; "we see God s plan 
in these things " ; "It was God Who began it " ; "in our doings 
we are guided by the Divine Counsel alone." 2 

It is when in such a frame of mind that he detects those signs 
and wonders that witness against his foes ; given the magnitude 
of the war he was waging whilst waiting for the coming of the 
Judge, these signs were no more to be wondered at than the 
obstinacy of his foes : " Now that the end of the world is coming 
the people [the Papists] storm and rage against God most 
gruesomely, blaspheming and condemning the Word of God, 
though knowing it to be indeed the Word and the Truth. And, 
on the top of this, are the many dreadful signs and wonders in the 
skies and among almost all creatures, which are a terrible menace 
to them." 3 

Though quite full of the idea that his own doctrine was 
alone right, yet, as already shown, he went in early days so 
far as to grant to every man freedom of belief and the right 
to read Scripture according to his lights ; for to him every 
Christian is a judge of Holy Scripture, a doctor and a tool of 
the Holy Ghost. The assumption underlying this, viz. that, 
in spite of all, the necessary unity of doctrine would be pre 
served, is not easy to explain. When, however, experience 
stepped in and disproved the assumption, Luther s behaviour 
became even more inexplicable. He was by nature so 
disposed to ignore the claims of logic that the contradiction 
between his demand that all should bow to his doctrine, and 
such theories as that the Bible is, for all, the true and only 
fount of knowledge, and that no other outward ecclesi 
astical authority exists, never seems to have troubled him. 
Though he claimed to be the " liberator of minds and 
consciences," he, nevertheless, called on the authorities to 
put down all other doctrines. 4 

1 Erl. ed., 57, p. 73. " Tischreden," ed. Aurifaber, Eisleben, 1566, 
pp. 18 and 18 . 2 Above, vol. iii., p. 121. 

3 Erl. ed., 65, p. 62, preface to his translation of Jeremias. 

4 See below, xxxviii, 1. 


The dignity of his chair at Wittenberg is exalted by him 
to giddy heights. " This university and town," he said of 
Wittenberg, may vie with any others. " All the highest 
authorities of the day are at one with us, like Amsdorf , Brenz 
and Rhegius. Such men are our correspondents." In com 
parison, the sects are simply ludicrous in their insignificance. 
Woe to those within the fold who dare to run counter to 
Luther, " like Jeckel and Grickel ; they imagine that 
they alone are clever and that they, like c Zwingel also, 
never learnt anything from us ! Yet who knew anything 
25 years ago ? Who stood by me 21 years since, when 
God, against both my will and my knowledge, led me 
into the fray ? Alas, what a misfortune is ambition ! " 
This he said in 1540, 1 but already eight years before he 
had complained bitterly : " Each one wants to make him 
self out to be alone in knowing everything. . . . Everywhere 
we find the same Master Wiseacre, who is so clever that he 
can lead a horse by its tail." Though one alone has received 
from God the mission of preaching the Gospel, yet " there 
are others, even among his pupils, who think they know ten 
times more about it than he. ... Then, hey presto, another 
doctrine is set up." 2 " Deadly harm " to Christianity is 
the result ; nevertheless, according to Christ s prophecy, 
"factions and sects " there must be ; but their source is 
and remains the devil 3 who, according to Luther, is the 
true God of this world in which indeed his finger can every 
where be seen. (See above, vol. v., p. 275 ff.) 

Strange indeed is the frame of mind here presented to the 
observer. So much is Luther the plaything of his fancy and 
the feeling of the moment, that, at times he seems the 
victim of a sort of self-suggestion and to be following 
blindly the idea which happens to hold the field. 

His judgment being seen to be so confused, it becomes 
easier to estimate at their right value certain of his ideas, 
particularly his conviction that he and his cause owed their 
preservation to a series of palpable miracles. He contrived 
to spread among his pupils the belief that " holy Luther " 
was the greatest prophet since the time of the Apostles. 4 
Yet anyone who reflects how Luther could devote a special 

1 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 169. 

2 Weim. ed., 32, p. 474 ; Erl. ed., 43, p. 263. 

3 76., p. 473 = 265. 

4 Cp. Spangenberg, " Theander Lutherus," pp. 45 and 51. 


tract to proving that so everyday an occurrence as the 
" escape " of a nun from her convent was worthy of being 
deemed a great miracle for all time, can only marvel at the 
facility with which Luther could delude himself. 1 

Other Abnormal Lines of Thought and Behaviour 

Luther s action presents many other problems to the 
psychologist, for instance, in its waverings and contradic 
tions. Strong in his belief in his Divine mission, he roundly 
abuses kings and princes in the vilest terms, and yet, at the 
same time, he teaches respect and obedience towards them 
and even sets himself up as a model in this respect, all 
according to his mood and as they happen to be favourable 
to him or the reverse. On the one hand, he presumes to incite 
the people to acts of violence, and, on the other, he preaches 
no less cogently the need of calmness and submission. He 
boasts of the courage with which he had dashed into the very 
jaws of Behemoth, and of his utter contempt for his foes ; 
yet this same Luther is obsessed by the idea that his own 
life is threatened by poison and sorcery, just as his party is 
menaced by the hired assassins of the monks and Papists. 
While he extols the University of Wittenberg as the bulwark 
of theological unity, he is at the same time so distrustful of 
the doctrine of his friends that his intercourse with them 
suffers, and, to at least one of his intimates, Wittenberg 
becomes a " cave of the Cyclops." 

Such contradictions and many of the like combined to 
induce in him an abnormal state of mind. Harmony and 
consistency of thought and feeling was something he never 
knew. Hence the charge brought against him, not merely 
by opponents, but even by many of his own followers, viz. 
of being muddled, illogical and not sure of his ground. 

While he is perfectly able at times to speak and write with 
such candour and truth that one cannot but admire the 
wholesome sense, and sober, witty, cheery style of his 
literary productions, yet their tone and character change 
entirely as soon as it becomes a question of his polemics or 
of his Evangel. Then his mind becomes overcast, his 
thoughts pursue one another like storm-clouds, assuming 
meanwhile the strangest shapes and the reader is over 
whelmed by a torrent of mingled abuse and paradox. 
1 See above, vol. iii., p. 159 ff. On the nun Florentina. 


His very proofs are caught up in the whirl and become so 
distorted that it is often impossible even to tell whether they 
are meant in earnest or are merely in the nature of a 

According to Luther, to mention only a few of the strangest of 
his sayings, his doctrine of justification and the forgiveness of sins 
is present " in all creatures " and is confirmed by analogy. 1 The 
very doctrine of creation rests on the doctrine of justification as 
on " its foundation." 2 " If the article of our souls salvation is 
embraced and adhered to with a firm faith, then the other articles 
follow naturally, for instance, that of the Trinity." 3 

Marriage he finds stamped on the whole of nature, " even on 
the hardest stones." New-born infants he assumes capable of 
eliciting an act of faith in baptism ; simply because he could not 
otherwise defend against the Anabaptists the traditional infant 
baptism and at the same time maintain that the efficacy of the 
sacraments depends on faith. His doctrine of the spiritual 
omnipresence of the body of Christ is an absurdity involving the 
presence of Christ in all food ; but even this is not too much for 
him if it enables him to defend his theory of the Supper. His 
imputation-theory led him to that considered utterance which 
has shocked so many : " Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe 
more boldly still." 4 " Sic volo, sic iubeo, sit pro ratione voluntas," 
was elsewhere his answer to another objection. 5 

He made no odds about declaring rhetorically, of all classes of 
men and all branches of religious knowledge : that, " in a word, 
before me no one knew anything." 6 Of the daring eloquence he 
can use when expressing such ideas we have a sample in the 
statement : " Were the Papists, particularly those who are now 
bawling at me in their writings, all stamped together in the wine 
press and then boiled down and distilled seven times over, not a 
quarter would be left capable of using their tongues to teach even 
one article [of the Catechism], nor from the whole of their 
doctrine could so much be drawn as would serve to teach a man 
servant how to behave in God s sight towards his master or a 
maid towards her mistress." 7 He alone, Luther, it was, who had 
brought to all ranks and classes throughout the world " a good 
conscience and order." 8 

1 Schlaginhaufen, " Tischreden," p. 92 : " Articulus remissionis 
peccatorum est in omnibus creaturis " (a. 1532). Cp. p. 139 : " Deus in 
omnibus officiis, statibus intromisit remissionem peccatorum," etc. 

2 Lauterbach, " Tagebuch," p. 201 (Khummer) : " Melanthon 
retulit, Lutherum scepe dixisse, articulum de remissions peccatorum esse 
fundamentum, unde exstruatur articulus de creatione." 

Erl. ed., 58, p. 390. 

See vol. iii., p. 195 ff. 

See above, vol. v., p. 517. 

Cp. above, vol. v., p. 585 ; vol. iv., pp. 331, 343 ; vol. ii., p. 294. 

Weim. ed., 26, p. 531 ; Erl. ed., 63, p. 273 (1528). 

/&., p. 530 = 272. 


Finally we have the paradox apparent in his practical 
instructions and the curious behaviour into which his 
belief in his mission occasionally led him. We may recall 
the means to be employed for overcoming temptations, one 
of the mildest of which was a good drink, 1 and the measures 
to be taken to induce peace of soul. " Break out into abuse," 
such is his advice, and that will bring inward peace. 2 If this 
does not work, then coarse humour will often succeed, one of 
those jests, for instance, where the sacred and sublime is 
vulgarised simply to raise a laugh. " Against the devil 
Luther makes use of stronger buffoonery and dismisses 
him curtly, nay, often rudely." 3 Pointless jests often spoil 
the force of his words. For instance, he found himself in a 
difficulty about the second wife whom one of Carlstadt s 
followers, acting on Luther s own principles, wished to take 
in addition to his ailing spouse ; whilst stipulating that the 
man must first " feel his conscience assured and convinced 
by the Word of God," and doing his best to dissuade him 
from taking such a step, Luther adds in a jesting tone, that 
it were perhaps better to let the matter take its course, as at 
Orlamiinde (under the rule of Carlstadt and his Old-Testa 
ment ideas) they would soon be introducing circumcision 
and the Mosaic Law in its entirety. * 

His instability of mind and ever-changing feeling ended 
by impressing a peculiar stamp on his whole mentality. 

At one time he is delighted to see all things subject to the 
new Evangel, and extols the gigantic success of his efforts ; 
at another he complains bitterly that the world is turning 
its back on the Word and deserting the little flock of true 
Evangelicals. Thus the world could promptly assume in 
his mind quite contradictory aspects. Of his alternating 
moods of confidence and despair he told his friends : " My 
moods vary quite a hundred times a day nevertheless I 
stand up to the devil." 5 Hence he was aware of his vacilla 
tions, though on the same occasion he declares that he knows 

1 See vol. iii., p. 175ff. 

2 Erl. ed., 60, p. 129 f. : " Break out at once into abuse, particularly 
if the devil attacks you with justification ! He frequently assails me 
with an argument that is not worth a snap, but in the turmoil and 
temptation I do not notice this ; but when I have recovered I see it 

3 Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 515. 

4 To Chancellor Briick, Jan. 27, 1524, " Brief wechsel," 4, p. 282. 

5 Erl. ed., 60, p. 129. 


right well how Holy Scripture strengthens him against 
them. He also feels and acknowledges his inconsistency, in 
being, for all his changeableness, so rigid and obstinate in 
his dealings with his friends. They knew his character, he 
said, and called it " obstinate." 1 

Profound depression can alone account for the step he 
took in 1530, when, for a while, he discontinued his sermons 
at Wittenberg because he was sick of the indifference of his 
hearers to the Word of God and disgusted with their conduct. 
The editor of the sermons of this year, which have only 
recently been published, remarks justly, that " the only 
possible explanation of this step is a pathological one." 2 
Luther even went so far as to declare from the pulpit that 
he was " not going to be a swine-herd." 3 Yet, a little after, 
during the journey to the Coburg, a sudden change occurred, 
and we find Luther making jokes and writing in a quite 
optimistic vein, and, no sooner had he reached his new 
abode, than he plunged into new literary labours. Never 
theless, whilst at the Castle, he was again a victim of intense 
depression, was visited by Satan s " embassy " and even 
vouchsafed a glimpse of the enemy of God. On his departure 
from the Coburg good humour again got the better of him, 
as we see from his jovial letter to Baumgartner of Oct. 4, 
1530, and on reaching Wittenberg, he was soon up to his 
ears in work, so that he could write : "I am not only 
Luther, but Pomeranus, Vicar-General, Moses, Jethro and 
I know not who else besides." 4 The facility with which his 
moods altered is again apparent when, in his last days, he 
left Wittenberg in disgust only to return again forthwith 
in the best of spirits. (See below, xxxix., 1.) 

Yet in his attitude to the olden Church this same man, 
who otherwise shows himself so instable, knows how to dis 
play such defiant obstinacy that Protestants who look too 

1 To Melanchthon, Aug. 3, 1530, " Brief wechsel," 8, p. 166 : " My 
head is indeed obstinate as you fellows say." 

2 Paul Pietsch, in the preface (p. xxi. f.) to vol. 32 of the Weim. ed. : 
" His annoyance and his tendency to see only the darker side of things 
show plainly enough . . . that Luther was suffering from that deep 
depression to which great men are sometimes liable. In later life, for 
instance in 1544, this depression again overtook Luther, and he even 
resolved to quit Wittenberg, and it was only with difficulty that he was 
dissuaded from doing so. In 1545 again something similar occurred. 
Yet in 1544 and 1545 his discouragement had again no real cause." 

3 Cp. Paulus, " Koln. Volksztng." (Lit. Bail.), 1906, p. 355, on vol. 32 
of the Weimar edition. 

* To Link, Dec. 1, 1530, " Briefwechsel," 8, p. 326. 


exclusively at this side of his character have even been able 
to speak of his inflexible firmness. What steels him here is 
his ardent belief in his calling. 

The idea of his vocation ever serves to help him over his 
difficulties. An instance of that marvellous elasticity of 
mind with which he seizes on his calling to pacify both him 
self and his friends, is to be found in an intimate conversa 
tion held after the " greatest of his temptations " in 1527, 
and recorded by Bugenhagen. After Luther had declared 
that he saw nothing to regret in his severity towards his foes 
he went on to speak, with tears in his eyes, of the sects that 
would spring up and which his friends would not be able to 
withstand. He proceeded to admit that " he was sorry 
if he had given scandal by his buffoonery and by his vitupera 
tion, 1 but that the cause could not be displeasing to the 
pious, for he loved mankind [this is Bugenhagen s remark] too 
much and was an enemy to all hypocrisy." " God had not 
ordained " that he, so Luther here declares, " should appear 
as a stern and austere figure. The world finds no sins 
( crimina ) wherewith to reproach me, but, because it 
follows its own judgment, it takes great offence at me, as 
I see. Possibly," so he goes on, " God wishes to delude the 
blind and ungrateful world ( mundum stultum facer e ) so 
that it may perish in its contempt and never see what 
excellent gifts God has bestowed on me alone out of so 
many thousands, wherewith I am to minister unto those 
who are His friends. Thus the world, which refuses to 
acclaim the word of salvation which God sends through me, 
will find in me, according to the divine counsel, what offends 
it and is to it a stumbling-block. For this God is answer 
able ; for I shall pray that I may never be to any a cause of 
scandal by my sins." 

" This I learnt with wondrous joy from his own lips," adds 
Bugenhagen. 2 Others will, however, find Luther s enig 
matical train of thought more difficult to understand. 

The above are but a few instances of an abnormal turn of 
mind ; of the like the present work contains others in 
abundance. Anyone desirous of penetrating further into 
the folds and windings of a mind so involved should study 

1 " Si quid hie iocis aut conviciis excedit" 

8 " Briefwechsel Bugenhagens," ed. Vogt, p. 67 ff. 


Luther s letters, particularly those dating from 1517 to 
1522 and from 1540 to 1546. He will there find much of the 
same sort, which can hardly be termed either sane or reason 
able ; but even the passages we have quoted suffice to 
reveal in him an uncanny power of self-deception such as 
few historic characters display. Many a great genius has 
betrayed psychological peculiarities, indeed it seems at 
times to be the fate of those endowed with eminent gifts to 
overstep the boundaries and to venture further than the 
reason and reflection of thinking men can follow. 1 That 
Luther carried certain mental peculiarities to their utmost 
limit is plain from what we have seen, nor can it be right to 
close one s eyes to the fact. 

Luther showed the defects of a " genius " not least in his 
vituperation and in the other far from commendable 
methods he used in his polemics. It was precisely these 
defects which led Erasmus to question whether he was quite 
in his right mind. " Had a man said this in the delirium of 
fever, could he have uttered anything more insane ? " Thus 
Erasmus in his " Hyperaspistes." 2 He often speaks of his 
opponent s feverish fancies. He denies that his spirit is a 
" sober " one, and maliciously supposes that he was drunk. 
In spite of his usual moderation and reticence, the scholar, 
when dealing with Luther s assertions, constantly uses such 
words as " delirus" " insanus" " lymphatus" " sine 
mente" " mera insania" On one occasion he says of the 
" devils, spectres, c lamice^ megcerce and other more than 
tragic words " which Luther was addicted to flinging at his 
foes, that such a habit was a " sign of coming madness " 
(" ventures insanice prcesagia ") ; elsewhere he views with 
misgiving the sort of compulsion (" non agere sed agi ") 
which urges Luther to abuse all who differ from him. 3 

In other circles, too, the opinion prevailed that Luther was 
suffering from some sort of mental disease. We may recall 
the remarks of Boniface Amerbach, who was not unkindly 
disposed to Luther, in sending the latter s tract of 1534 
against Erasmus, to his brother Basil (above, vol. iv., p. 183). 

1 We remember having recently read in a review, that many, at the 
present day, consider " mental aberration an indispensable condition 
of mental greatness." 

2 "Si hcec a febricitante dicerentur, quid did possit insanius ! " 
" Opp.," 10, col. 1282, in 1526. 

3 The passages are given in Latin above, vol. iv., p. 353, n. 3. 


In Luther s immediate surroundings we also find traces 
of a fear that the Master stood in some danger of losing 
his mind. 

A thoroughgoing investigation of the matter by some 
unbiassed expert in mental diseases would, however, be of 
immeasurably greater value than the mere opinions of 
contemporary admirers and opponents. But the difficulty 
is to find an impartial expert. Protestant theologians will 
not easily be found ready to agree with Catholic writers 
regarding the process which made of a quondam monk the 
founder of the Protestant faith, or to see Luther s scruples 
in quite the same light. Entire agreement would seem for 
ever excluded, owing to differences of outlook so deep- 
seated. If, to some, Luther appears as a " new Paul," and 
as one who removed every obstacle to free religious research, 
then the view they take of his inward change and later 
spiritual life must perforce be coloured to some extent by 
this idea. 

Nor must the fact be lost to sight that many of the 
apparently suspicious symptoms were, in Luther s case, 
quite wilful. Thus his outbreaks of fury against Popery, the 
psychological origin of which we have already described 
(vol. iv., p. 306 ff.), are largely an outcome of the feelings of 
hatred he deliberately encouraged, and a reaction against 
his earlier and better convictions. Again, self-deception and 
lack of self-control, i.e. moral elements, played a great part 
in him. Since, however, even at the outset of his career he 
already displayed these moral defects, they must be care 
fully distinguished from his morbid states and no less from 
his doubts and remorse of conscience. 

At the very least, however, we should give to the purely 
historical facts such unbiassed, broadminded recognition as 
that editor of the great Weimar Edition of Luther s works 
(see above, p. 168), who, as we heard, spoke of the " patho 
logical " explanation of certain acts and statements of 
Luther s as the only one possible. The word " patho 
logical," and other similar ones, had, however, been used 
even earlier, and, that, even by non-Catholics, as descriptive 
of certain of Luther s states, nor was the remark entirely 
new, that in many a great genius we find something patho 
logical. 1 

1 Cp. above, vol. ii., pp. 267 and 274 ; cp. also below, what Hausrath 
and Mobius say. The expression "abnormal state of temper " is used 


5. Luther s Psychology according to Physicians and Historians 

It is not our intention in the following to criticise the 
opinions quoted ; they have been collected chiefly with the 
object in view of providing those qualified to judge with 
matter on which to exercise their wits. Nevertheless, we 
have no intention of depriving ourselves of the right of 
making occasional observations. Thus Hausrath s opinion, 
to be given immediately, calls for some revision, as will be 
clear even to the lay mind. No disturbance of Luther s 
intellectual functions or mental malady amounting to 
actual " psychosis " can be assumed at any period of his 
life. This, however, is a quite different thing from admitting 
that his case was not entirely normal. 

" The psychology of men, who, like him, are engaged in 
such a struggle," rightly remarks a Protestant theologian, 
" is exceedingly complicated. Discrepancies are to be met 
with side by side, and, according to the circumstances, now 
one element now another comes to the fore." 1 In Luther s 
case the co-existence of bouts of illness with the unfettered 
use of his powers, of fundamental delusions with true though 
misapplied ideas, of frivolity, sensuality and temptations to 
despair, and, on the top of all this, the contradictory state 
ments he himself makes about himself, i.e. he, the only 
man who could have told us how the facts really stood all 
these circumstances render any sure conclusion extremely 

No Protestant hitherto has used terms so strong to 
describe Luther s overwrought nerves as his most recent 
biographer, Hausrath, the Heidelberg theologian, in his first 
edition of his " Life of Luther." His assertions do un 
doubtedly err on the side of exaggeration. 2 For instance, 

by W. Kohler in the " Theol. Literaturbericht," vol. 23 (1903), p. 499. 
Elsewhere he calls Luther " the most paradoxical figure imaginable, 
who speaks differently to every hearer " (ib., vol. 24, 1904, p. 517). 
See also Dollinger (" Kirchenlexikon," 2 art. "Luther," col. 344), and 
Mohler, "Symbolik," 48, 1873 ed., p. 423. U. Berliere, O.S.B., 
recently remarked : " Une 6tude psychologique de Luther ne peut etre 
separee de son histoire ni de 1 evolution de sa vie interieure, encore 
moins de son etat pathologique. . . . Cette etude n est pas encore 
achevee " (" Revue benedictine," 1906, p. 630 f.). 

1 See Kohler, " Ein Wort zu Denifles Luther," p. 27. 

2 Cp. above, vol. i., p. 383. Cp. also the remarks on the next page, 
n. 2. 


when he says, that, owing to his illness in the monastery 
Luther had more than once been in danger of sinking into 
"the abyss of religious melancholia." 1 Erroneously regard 
ing the " temptations " in reality mere remorse of con 
science from which Luther suffered, as the outcome of his 
morbid bodily and mental state, he even ventures to hint 
expressly at the nature of the malady : " The regularity 
with which the attacks return during all the years spent in 
the monastery and after he had commenced his public 
career, leads us to infer a recurrent psychosis, the attacks of 
which became less frequent after his marriage, but never 
altogether ceased." 2 

In recent times, apart from Hausrath, two other writers, 
both of them non-Catholics, have looked more closely into 
Luther s pathology. Dr. Berkhan in an article in the 
" Archiv fur Psychiatric " entitled " Die nervosen 
Beschwerden Luthers," and Gustav Kawerau in the study 
" Etwas vom kranken Luther," printed in the " Deutsch- 
evangelische Blatter." The two Protestants, Kuchen- 
meister and Ebstein, who also dealt with Luther s maladies, 3 
failed to discuss the psychological phenomena here under 
consideration ; what interested them was more Luther s 
ordinary illnesses though, it is true, they bring forward 
various data which may prove of interest here ; these, 
nevertheless, must be cautiously used, as the authors are 
somewhat deficient in historical criticism. Older writers 

1 In the art. " Luthers Bekehrung " (" N. Heidelb. Jahrb.," 6, 
1896), p. 193. 

2 "Luthers Leben," 1, 1905, p. 109 f. The author speaks of the 
" secret sufferings of soul " which did not, however, interfere with the 
thoroughness of his work (p. 110) ; incidentally, in exoneration of the 
violence of Luther s writings against Zwingli, he urges that Luther 
wrote it "at a time of great depression, which he even wished his 
opponents might endure for but a quarter of an hour to see if it would 
not convert them " (2, p. 213). At the Wart burg " his mental suffering 
returned, as it always did when he remained for any length of time 
without outward stimulus or active intercourse with the outside 
world " (1, p. 475). In the supplement to his unaltered 2nd edition 
Hausrath deals with the objections raised against his " pathological " 
view though he considerably modifies his wordings (1, p. 573 ff.). 

3 On Ebstein see below, p. 176 f. Ebstein s is an improvement on 
Kuchenmeister, " Dr. Martin Luthers Krankengesch.," Leipzig, 1881. 
Kuchenmeister did not do justice to the historical material and always 
quotes at second hand. Th. Kolde rightly speaks of his work as a 
" book that had better not have been written " (" Anal. Lutherana," 
p. 50). He also thinks Berkhan s treatment of the subject (ib., p. 51) 
" of small value." 


who treated of Luther s illnesses, e.g. the Protestant pastor 
Friedrich Siegmund Keil, Garmann, the Chemnitz physician 
and an anonymous writer in the " Neues Hannoversche 
Magazin " are even less satisfactory. 

Of the two first mentioned, Kawerau supplies a careful 
review of those statements of Luther s which concern his 
nervous maladies, not, however, carrying them back to his 
earliest years. He gives us the picture " of a man occupying 
a most responsible position, ever in friction with his sur 
roundings " and " in a state of nervous overstrain due to too 
much work of body and mind." 1 With these words he seeks 
to pave the way for a psychological appreciation of all that, 
as he says, " so often appears repulsive or regrettable in 
Luther, for instance, his waxing irritability, his unbridled 
anger, the excesses he commits by word and pen, and his 
sudden changes of mood." He even opines that " the 
spiritual temptations may be accounted for by his all-too- 
great labours and anxieties, and their effect upon his 
constitution " ; 2 his conclusion is that a fuller knowledge of 
Luther s ailments " helps us to understand him aright and 
better to appreciate his greatness." 3 

The other writer, Dr. Berkhan, a Brunswick physician, 
had, previous to Kawerau, attempted to lift the veil which 
shrouds the " anomalies " presented by Luther ; he did not, 
however, properly sift his materials, nor did he consider the 
various symptoms in their complexus. 4 He comes to the 
conclusion that some of Luther s troubles, for instance, his 
" hallucinations," " must be ascribed to an affection of the 
nerve centres." These " hallucinations " he attributes to 
" fluxions " due to overwork. Such hallucinations, accord 
ing to him, were, in Luther s case, of two kinds ; some 
optical and some auditory. They were induced, so he 
thinks, not only by the permanent excitement of Luther s 
life, but also by " his doubts and controversies." What 
Luther terms temptations Berkhan also regards as, in the 
main, mere psychic depression bound up with nerve disturb 
ance. In view of certain other symptoms he diagnoses a case 
of praecordial trouble. 5 

After Kawerau and Berkhan we must refer to P. J. 

1 " Deutsch-evangelische Bl.," 29, Halle, 1904, p. 303 ff. 

8 See above, p. 109 ff. * P. 316. 

* " Archiv f. Psychiatrie," 11, Berlin, 1880-1, p. 798 ff. 

* P. 799. Op. above, p. 100 ff. 


Mobius, the Leipzig expert in mental ailments. He is known 
in connection with his highly original studies on Rousseau, 
Goethe, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche ; on Luther he has 
not expressed his views at any great length, but, such as they 
are, they are drastic enough. 1 

Mobius points out 2 that " in Luther s case the pathological 
element is of the utmost significance." " Even Luther s recent 
biographer, Professor Hausrath," he writes, " spoke of recurrent 
psychosis. 3 According to what Kraepelin now says, it would be 
better to term it a mild form of maniacal depression. 4 The main 
point is that Luther, from his youth upwards, suffered at times 
from the dumps without any apparent cause, was oppressed with 
gloomy forebodings, sadness, fear and despair. The melancholic 
phases may easily be traced throughout Luther s life ; probably, 
too, the periods when he felt his power and gave vent to his 
boundless wrath should be regarded as morbid and maniacal. 
We may take it that, in Luther s case, the morbid mood made 
the illness, and that his fantastic interpretation of certain inci 
dents combats with the devil, intercourse with spirits and 
Divine inspirations are to be explained, not as delusions, but as 
the explanations he sought in the ideas then current." 

" The present writer," continues Mobius, " does not in the least 
believe that Luther suffered from hallucinations. It seems always 
to have been a case of placing a superstitious interpretation on 

1 Mobius proceeds on the principle that " in each of us what is 
healthy is mixed with what is morbid and the more anyone rises 
above the average, the further he departs from the normal." " The 
pathological element is part of every eminent man." This, according 
to Mobius, is particularly the case with the genius. Hence, in his 
studies, it is his aim to show how psychiatry " may be used for appreci 
ating great men." Mobius intended to deal in detail with the pathology 
of Luther but was prevented by death from carrying out his plan. In 
his study on Schopenhauer (" Ausgewahlte Werke," Bd. 4) who 
according to him was certainly not insane in the ordinary sense he 
says : "I consider Schopenhauer one of the best instances to prove 
that it is only pathology which teaches us rightly to understand great 
writers and their works. . . . Schopenhauer became the philosopher 
of pessimism because, from the beginning, he was a sickly man. It was 
not the recognition of the evils in the world that made him take this 
line, but he deliberately sought out and described the evils because he 
needed to vindicate his own pessimism. He had displayed the latter 
even as a boy, having inherited it from his father, and his morbid 
disposition influenced his whole mode of thought." 

8 In " Schmidts Jahrb. der in- und auslandischen gesamten 
Medizin," ed. P. J. Mobius and H. Doppe, 288, Leipzig, 1905, Hft. 12, 
Dec., p. 264 in the notice of my articles " Ein Grundproblem aus 
Luthers Seelenleben," in the " Koln. Volksztng.," Lit. Beilage, 1905, 
Nos. 40 and 41. 

3 [Above, p. 173.] 

4 [Emil Kraepelin, " Psychiatrie, Ein Lehrbuch fur Studierende und 
Arzte," 6 Leipzig, 1899, Cap. ix. : " Das manisch-depressive Irresein, 
pp. 359-425.] 


real phenomena. The black pig in the garden and the black dog on 
his bed, were, most likely, of flesh and blood. In many instances 
(the wrestling with the demon, and so forth) the language is 
simply figurative. With Luther the pathological element made 
history. His morbid fear led him to brood over justification ; 
the sense of his own utter weakness convinced him that man can 
do nothing of his own strength and by his own works, and that 
the only possible course is to stretch out yearning hands and 
seize on Grace. In his melancholic state he fell in with the 
doctrine of justification by faith alone of St. Paul (who himself 
suffered from the same ailment [ ! ]), and, around this centre, 
his theological ideas grouped themselves, and, with sola fides 
as his war-cry, he proceeded to do battle with the ancient Church. 
Thus, from the monk s melancholia, sprang the Reformation." 

Proceeding on similar lines, Professor Willy Hellpach, of 
Carlsruhe, observed in the Berlin "Tag" (" Psychologische 
Rundschau," Jan. 18, 1912) : " Several years ago the Jesuit 
scholar, Pater Grisar, published in the Kolnische Volkszeitung 
an article entitled Ein Grundproblem aus Luthers Seelenleben. 
Of this work Mobius said, and quite rightly, that it was the 
best account so far given of the pathology of Luther s mind. That 
Luther s mind was at times morbidly depressed without any 
reasonable cause has never been doubted by any who knew him, 
even when they happened to be Evangelicals. Hausrath, in his 
biography, had spoken of recurrent psychosis, a statement, 
which, it is true, he modified later on account of the storm of 
indignation which broke out among those queer folk who seem 
to look upon a gifted man s malady as a worse blot than the 
greatest crime." Hellpach points out that laymen are wrong 
when they imagine that "psychosis" involves "an absolute 
derangement of the power of thought." 

Wilhelm Ebstein, a Professor of Medicine, 1 recently, and 
not without reason, registered a protest against the view 
of those who maintain that Luther was actually out of his 
mind. Himself interested in the treatment of cases of gout 
and calculus, he comes to the conclusion that Luther s chief 
sufferings were caused by uric acid and faulty digestion, the 
two together constituting the principal trouble, and being 
accompanied, as is so often the case with gout, by " neuras 
thenic symptoms which at times recall psychosis " ; 2 his 
" hypochondriacal depression which passed all bounds " 
was entirely due to these ailments. Not only these 
" nervous symptoms," but also the other ailments of which 
Luther had to complain, his palpitations, headaches, dizzi- 

1 " Dr. Martin Luthers Krankheiten und deren Einfluss auf seinen 
korperlichen und geistigen Zustand," Stuttgart, 1908. 

2 Pp. 7, 64. 


ness, sore-throat, defective hearing, impaired digestion, 
fainting fits, and particularly his oppression in the region of 
the heart and the feelings of fear which accompanied it, all 
these were, according to Ebstein, due more or less to gout 
and the other troubles resulting from the presence of 
uric acid. 1 

There can be no doubt that this learned physician gives us 
many useful observations, but he has not himself selected his 
historical matter and carefully tested its source. Much of it 
comes from Kiichenmeister, whereas, at the present stage of 
research, a medical opinion, to carry real weight, must neces 
sarily enter at greater length into the facts more recently brought 
to light. Some of Kiichenmeister s opinions have, however, been 
revised by Ebstein, and not without good reason. 

Among those of Ebstein s statements that must be character 
ised as historically untenable are the following, viz. that Luther s 
hallucinations and visions occurred " almost without exception 
at a time when he was yet under the influence of the asceticism of 
the monastery, with its night- vigils, spiritual exercises and 
strenuous mental labours," i.e. in his Catholic days ; likewise, 
that, in the monastery, he had striven " most diligently to outdo 
the other monks in the matter of fasting, watching," etc. ; that, 
in later days, he had " always been able to master his morbid 
states, and to bid defiance to his moods of depression," and that 
these latter had "in no way detracted " from his mental labours ; 
that his method of controversy had never been a morbid one, as 
Kiichenmeister had asserted on insufficient grounds, and that, 
when even Luther referred to mental sufferings and temptations, 
his " bodily ailments " always occupied the first place and 
constituted the leading factor. 2 

His theory that Luther suffered from gout is also eminently 

Of any symptoms of gout, for instance, of gouty swellings, we 
hear nothing from Luther 3 though lie was wont to expatiate on 
his complaints, and though, according to Ebstein, he possessed a 
" rare knowledge of medical matters." 4 Nor did Luther perma 
nently suffer from sluggishness and constipation of the bowels ; 
we hear of it only at Worms and at the Wartburg in 1521, and 
then again in 1525. To put down " his moodiness, melancholia 
and depression " as Ebstein terms the remorse of conscience 
experienced in 1528 at the time of his greatest " temptations " 
to an attack of piles, described by Luther in a letter to his friend 
Jonas on Jan. 6, 1528, is to misapprehend the facts of the case ; 
for, actually, it was three years before this that Luther had for a 
while been troubled with haemorrhoids, as is evident both from 

1 Pp. 45 ff., 56 ff. 2 Pp. 62, 10, 63 f., 60, 55, 54, 64. 

3 This Ebstein admits (p. 44), though he argues that the " seizures 
in the joints " of which Luther complains must have had a gouty origin. 

4 76., p. 40. But cp. above, p. 110 f. 

vi. N 


the text of the inquiry made by Jonas (" ante triennium"), and 
from Luther s answer : " My illness was as follows," etc. 1 

Moreover, Luther was not suffering from stone in 1521, and it is 
only in 1526 that we hear him speaking of it for the first time ; 
after this the malady was for a long time in abeyance, 2 until, 
between 1537 and 1539, it once more attacked him severely ; it 
is again referred to in 1543. 

Hence we must still await a more accurate medical diagnosis to 
determine if indeed this be possible how far the history of 
Luther s outward and inward troubles was dependent on uric 
acid. 3 Maybe, eventually, greater stress than hitherto will be 
laid on Luther s heart troubles ; if so, then it will become 
necessary to find out what the so-called " cardiogmus " was, from 
which, according to Melanchthon, Luther suffered severely early 
in 1545 ; for, in his friend s opinion, it was to this that Luther s 
death later on was due. 4 Ebstein himself says of the oppression 
in the region of the heart and the resultant anxiety 5 from which 
Luther suffered, until his death was ultimately brought about by 
" heart failure," that it " leads us to diagnose some heart affec 
tion " ; this, according to his theory, was due, in part directly 
to gout, in part also to the obstinate constipation which ac 
companied it. According to him the periodic attacks of heart- 
oppression suggest heart asthma or angina pectoris, which, 
notoriously, often co-exists with gout. 

As regards Luther s mental sufferings, Ebstein will not 
hear of Berkhan s hypothesis of " fluxions " ; he himself, 
however, and herein lies his principal fault, does not 
make sufficient account of his patient s frequent nervous 
states. He thinks that Luther s black outlook, which, 
according to him, resulted from gout, was not bound up 
directly with any sufferings. 6 As regards the " hallucina 
tions of sight and hearing," 7 which Luther regarded as the 
work of the devil, he declares, that Luther, from time to 
time, fell into a condition of " weakness and irritability 
which make the temporary disturbance of his brain-powers 
quite intelligible " ; as to the cause of the lapses, Ebstein 
finds it in " the strenuous mental labour " leading to a 
" condition of inanition." 8 He also allows, that, even as a 
monk, and in early life, Luther was a victim of moodiness. 9 
He is, however, quite right when he says : " Insanity 
cannot be thought of, nor even epilepsy." 10 In his admira- 

1 Cp. in " Brief wechsel Luthers," 6, p. 191, for the proofs in support 
of this letter quoted by Enders from Kawerau. 

2 Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 168. 3 Ebstein, ib., p. 44. 
4 Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 691 f. 5 Pp. 49, 53. 

6 P. 55 f. 7 P. 56. 8 P. 12. P. 62. 10 P. 10. 


tion for Luther, he also credits him with having in his life 
time endured " more days of suffering than of well-being." 
To make this statement entirely true it would, however, be 
necessary to include amongst the days of suffering, those 
when he was so paralysed by remorse of conscience as to be 
incapable of work. At any rate we quite admit with 
Ebstein that, in Luther, we have " a man, during a 
great part of his life, sorely tried by bodily ailments," 1 a 
fact which can only make one wonder the more at the extent 
of his labours. 

To pass now to some older Catholic writers. In 1874 
Bruno Schon, of Vienna, published an essay in which he 
depicted Luther as mentally deranged. 2 

The author, who was chaplain to a lunatic asylum, was not 
merely no historian and still less an expert in mental disease, but 
lacked even a proper acquaintance with Luther s life and writings. 
His historical groundwork he took from second-rate works, and 
his opinion was biassed by his conviction that Luther could not 
but be insane. He makes no real attempt to prove such a thing ; 
all he does is to give us an account, clothed in psychiatric termin 
ology, of the different forms of madness from which Luther 
suffered ; in the first place he was afflicted with megalomania and 
the mania of persecution, two forms of insanity frequently found 
together. But nervous irritability, anxiety, moodiness, excit 
ability, a too high opinion of himself, perversion of judgment and 
even hallucinations could such be proved in Luther s case all 
these would not entitle us to say that he was ever really insane. 
Nervous derangement, says Kirchhoff , is not psychosis, and people 
subject to hallucinations are not always insane. 3 

Long before this other Catholic writers had instanced 
certain peculiarities in Luther s mental state, though they, 
like almost all recent writers, with the exception of Hausrath, 
were ignorant of one of the most remarkable elements to be 
taken into consideration, viz. the fits of terror to which 
Luther had been subject from early youth. The treatment 

1 P. 44 f . 

2 "Luther auf dem Standpunkt der Psychiatrie beurteilt," Wien, 
1874. Bruno Sch6n declares that Luther was " in part excused by the 
fact that he was deranged " (p. 3) ; this derangement Luther contrived 
to explain away by laying it all down to the devil, whom he had seen 
in actual hallucinations (p. 9) ; he had regarded all his opponents as 
fools, just as the inmates of an asylum look upon all others as fools and 
on themselves as perfectly sane (p. 28), etc. 

3 " Grundriss einer Gesch. der deutschen Irrenpflege," 1890, p. 76 


of this matter was made all the harder by the fact that 
Luther s extravagant after-accounts of his life in the 
monastery, and the growth of his ideas, were received with 
too much credulity, and that his letters, his Table-Talk and 
many details of his life were but little known. 

Maximilian Prechtl, Abbot of Michaelfeld (f!832), though 
he refuses to regard Luther as insane, nevertheless calls 
attention to the many " phantoms of a sick brain " which he 
had seen ; " Luther believed," so he says, "that he often 
saw the devil, and that under different shapes." 1 The 
learned Abbot brought out a new annotated edition of 
Luther s " Against the Papacy founded by the Devil," 
which he published at the time of the Reformation-Festival 
in 1817, in order to show the mad fury, hate and mental 
confusion to which its author had fallen a victim. Luther s 
writing betrays, so he opines, " no common fury but the 
insane passion of the man, then almost at death s door." 2 
Too great stress must not be laid on some of the opinions 
he here advances, which overstep the limits he himself had 
traced and appear to credit Luther with insanity. Prechtl 
spoke out more strongly in his " Rejoinder " to the 
attacks made on his remarks. He emphasises " the in 
controvertible proofs " to be found in Luther " of a troubled 
fancy," and asserts that " he was not always in his right 

Somewhat earlier, in 1810, the Catholic layman Friedrich 
von Kerz, who continued Stolberg s " Geschichte der 
Religion Christi," published a book " Uber den Geist und 
die Folgen der Reformation " in which he comes to a far 
too unfavourable opinion of Luther s mental state, which he 
seeks to bolster up by statements incapable of historical 
proof. In a nutshell, what he tentatively advances is, that, 
" owing to the shock following the death of a friend struck 
down at his side, Luther had lost his reason " ; " the 
symptoms of a twisted mind soon became apparent." 
" Luther not seldom appears in the light of an inexplicable 
moral enigma, so that we are led, not indeed willingly, to 
wonder whether a certain recurrent mental aberration and 
periodic madness was not in reality the first and perhaps the 

1 " Antwort auf das Sendschreiben," 3 Sulzbach, 1817, p. 70 ff. 

2 See the 2nd ed. of this writing, bearing the same title as the 1st, 
"Seitenstiick zur Weisheit Lathers." The 1st ed. is weaker in its 
animadversions than the 2nd. 


only source of his vocation as a Reformer, of all his public 
acts and of the greater part of his reforms." 1 

As against Kerz, Schon and even Prechtl, we must urge 
that we have no proof that Luther was actually the slave of 
his morbid fancies, or mentally diseased ; no such proof to 
support the hypothesis of insanity is adduced by any of the 
writers named. Of the temporary clouding of the mind they 
make no mention. 

As for the kind of megalomania met with in Luther, when 
he insists on his being the mouthpiece of revelation, this is not 
the sort usual in the case of the mentally deranged, when 
the patient appears to be held captive under the spell of his 
delusion. Luther often wavered in his statements regarding 
his special revelation, indeed sometimes went so far as to 
deny it ; in other words he was open to doubt. Moreover, 
at the very times when he clung (or professed to cling) to it 
with the greatest self-complacency, he was suffering from 
severe attacks of depression, whereas it is not usual for 
megalomania and depression to exist side by side. As for 
the periodic fits of insanity suggested by Hausrath his 
moods alternated too rapidly. His morbid ideas do not 
constitute a paranoic system of madness, and still less is it 
possible to attribute everything to mere hypochondriacal 

The theory of Luther s not being a free agent is excluded 
not only by his doubts and remorse of conscience, but also 
by the bitter determination with which at the very beginning 
he persuades himself of his ideas, insists upon them later 
when doubts arise, and finally surrenders himself to their 
spell by systematic self-deception. Such behaviour does 
not accord with that of a man who is not free. It must 
also be noted that the morbid symptoms of which Schon 
speaks, in whatever light they be regarded, do not occur 
simultaneously ; some disappear while others become more 
marked as time goes on. This, however, also makes it 
difficult and wellnigh impossible to discover what were the 
components which originally went to make up Luther s 
mentality before it had been seared by the errors and 
inward commotion of his later passionate life. Above all 
a fact repeatedly pointed out already must not be overlooked, 
viz. that, throughout, wilful giving way to passion, lack of 

1 P. 188. 


self-control and too high an opinion of himself, united with 
self-deception played a great part with him, particularly in 
those outbreaks of fury against Pope and Papists in which 
one might be tempted to see the work of a maniac. In 
view of Luther s aptitude to pass rapidly from craven fear 
to humorous self-confidence it would be necessary in order 
to prove his insanity, to show clearly as far as possible a 
demonstration which has not yet been attempted that 
periods of depression or fear really alternated with periods 
of exaltation, and what the duration of these periods was. 

We cannot too much impress on those who may be 
inclined to assume that, at least at times, Luther was not 
in his right mind the huge and truly astounding powers of 
work displayed by the man. Only comparatively seldom do 
we hear of his being disinclined to labour or incapable of 
work, and almost always the reason is clear. Even were the 
advocates of intermittent insanity ready to allow the 
existence of lengthy lucid intervals still so extraordinary a 
power for work would prevent our agreeing with them any 
more than with Schon, Mobius, Hausrath and the older 
authors referred to above. 

As to the question of the possibility of such a disability 
having been inherited either from his father or his mother 
a matter into which modern psychiaters are always anxious 
to inquire : Here, again, we find nothing to support the 
theory of mental derangement. Hans Luther, his father, 
was a stern, rude man of violent temper, and his wife, 
Margaret, would also appear to have been a harsh woman, 
without any joy in life and displaying small traces of the 
more winning traits of affection. Neither of the pair did 
much to sweeten the lad s hard boyhood and youth. This 
certainly explains to some extent the thread of depression 
and pessimism which runs side by side with the lively and 
more cheerful one in the monk and university professor. Of 
greater importance to the question in hand is the irritability 
and violence of temper which showed itself in his father. 
If the latter really committed manslaughter in a fit of anger, 
as seems probable, and as has also been admitted by 
Protestant scholars, 1 then the son s irritability, and his 
startling tendency to break out into foaming rage against 
his opponents, may doubtless be traced back in part to the 

1 See above, vol. i., p. 16. 


effects of heredity. In 1906 the fact came to light that 
another Hans Luther, besides Martin s father, resided at 
Mansfeld, and the latter, according to the records of the law- 
courts, would appear to have borne a bad character and to 
have been frequently punished for brawling and for being 
too ready with his knife. If the latter, as the name would 
imply, was a relative of Martin s we have here one more 
argument to prove that the family was exceptionally 
irritable. 1 

Luther s nervous irritability ought, indeed, to be made 
more account of than it has hitherto been. 

Addendum. Some Medical Opinions on Nervous 
Degeneration, and Abnormal Ideas. 

What was said above about Luther s " nervousness " 
(p. 105 ff) may here be supplemented by some quotations 
from August Cramer, the expert psychiater, now of Berlin. 
It is true that what we shall quote is not intended to refer 
to Luther, yet what he says may serve to explain certain of 
Luther s symptoms, and, possibly, to show that some which 
were put down to mental derangement may have been due 
rather to a form of neurasthenia. 2 

" Even perfectly normal children are sometimes inclined in 
their growing period to display great variations of temper, and to 
be violent and changeable in their affections about the age of 
puberty. This, however, is far more noticeable in the case of 
people of a strongly developed nervous temperament. Ground 
less outbreaks of anger, marked pathological absence of mind 
and entire inability to concentrate their thoughts are often the 
result. Fits of oppression and anxiety are not unknown ; head 
aches are fairly frequent and the patients seem at times not to 
be masters of themselves. They also tend to swing from an 
exaggerated idea of their own importance to a despondent lack 

1 " Zeitsehr. des Harzvereins," 39, 1906, p. 191 ft. It cannot be 
proved from the records that the second Hans Luther had been guilty 
of actual manslaughter. Hence in vol. i., it was not necessary to point 
out that the manslaughter of which Wicel accuses Martin Luther s 
father, repeating his accusation most emphatically in public writings 
without its being called into question by Luther, cannot be placed to 
the account of the second Hans with any semblance of likelihood 
(though it has been done, cp. " Luther- Kalender," 1910, p. 76 f). 
Wicel came to Eisleben in 1533, thus only a few years after the father s 
death, and was able to assure himself of the facts, concerning which 
there was not likely to be any mistake owing to Martin Luther s 
celebrity at that time. 

2 Aug. Cramer, " Die Nervositat," Jena, 1906. 


of self-confidence. In their bents and friendships they are very 
fickle. Hence we have here already in a very marked degree 
that instability which von Magnan has pointed out as character 
istic of degenerates. 

In later life, too, such highly strung temperaments are often, 
at least in the worse cases, predisposed to sudden changes of 
views, and to fly to extremes, their varying moods tend at times 
to become periodic, they are over-sensitive, are frequently unable 
to bear alcohol, their sexual inclinations are abnormal and they 
are often addicted from an early age to masturbation. . . . 
Thus the predominant characteristic of the degenerate is lack of. 
constancy (p. 175). 

Of " nervosity " where it is combined with fear the same 
author says : " The change of mood is often entirely without 
cause and is by no means of a regular type, though instances of a 
periodic character are occasionally to be met with. . . . We meet, 
for example, persons whom we cannot possibly describe as ill, 
who at times are exceptionally capable, lively and good-tempered, 
and yet at other times give the impression of being downhearted, 
self-centred and scarcely able to get through their daily tasks." 

" Apart from those who are habitually depressed, there are 
others who suffer from time to time, without any outward cause, 
from slight fits of depression, mostly accompanied by more or 
less severe fits of anxiety. Looking more carefully into these 
various types, we shall find that they belong almost exclusively 
to strongly marked nervous temperaments. ... In bad cases 
the periodic changes of mood may become stronger and stronger, 
and lead eventually between the fortieth and sixtieth year to 
actual folie circulaire. Anxiety is, of course, common to all 
nervous people, but in many cases it plays the prominent part. 
. . . Often the patients complain of all kinds of accompanying 
symptoms, not seldom of palpitations, weakness in the legs, 
headaches, attacks of dizziness, and, particularly, of the para 
lysing effects of their vague dreads. When this anxiety over 
takes them they become unable to work as usual, and their 
spirit of enterprise is checked " (p. 207 ff.). 

As to how far what Cramer says is applicable to Luther s 
mental states may here be left open. The same holds good of 
what we shall quote below from C. Wcrnicke and H. Fried- 
mann. What the former says of " autochthonous " ideas 
may conceivably be applicable to Luther s conviction of the 
private revelations he had received and of which he speaks so 
strongly above (p. 142 ff.) as even to suggest actual auditory 
hallucination ; that there was no real hallucination seems 
more likely for the reason that Luther elsewhere is disposed 
to regard the incidents as of an inward character and is not 
quite so wholly under their sway as would have been the 
case had they been strictly speaking hallucinatory. 


As to " exalted ideas," of which both speak, they put us 
in mind of some of Luther s ideas concerning his own person, 
position, achievements and persecutions (cp. our summary 
in vol. iv., pp. 329-41). 

It must, however, be noted that " exalted ideas " can be 
present in a mind otherwise perfectly sound, and that, 
consequently, even if Luther had such ideas it would not 
prove him to have been mentally deranged ; the same holds 
good of " autochthonous " ideas, which, occurring singly, 
are no warrant of insanity. 

Again, even should Luther s idea of his revelations turn 
out to be originally " autochthonous," yet the reception he 
accorded it, the interpretation he placed on it and the use he 
made of it seem, as we have already set forth, to have been 
both deliberate and responsible. This is confirmed by the 
circumstance that, in time, his keen sense of such impres 
sions waned under the objections brought against them, and 
that his insistence on the " revelations " and his interpreta 
tion of them no longer found quite the same vigorous 
expression as before. Nevertheless, we repeat it once more : 
It is for experts to pass a definite judgment, but, in order 
to do so fairly, they must not submit to the microscope 
merely one class of Luther s mental manifestations, but 
consider him as a whole, as monk no less than as Reformer, 
and examine his mentality on all its sides. 

Writing of certain kinds of abnormal ideas, viz. those which he 
calls " autochthonous," Carl Wernicke says : l " The patient 
becomes aware of ideas springing up in his mind that are alien 
to him and not his own, i.e. which have not arisen along the 
normal ideas and on the ordinary lines of association." Speaking 
of those actually suffering from mental derangement, Wernicke 
again alludes to this class : " Objective observers, who are quite 
conscious of the alien character of the autochthonous ideas and 
attach no fundamental importance to them, are only to be found 
as the exception among those who are really mentally unsound. 
Almost always the ideas are conceived as ready-made, as 
forced upon the mind, as * inspired, or as derived, but, from 
whom, depends entirely on the individuality of the patient and 
on the nature of the autochthonous idea (which is not unin 
fluenced by the former). Pious thoughts are inspired by God, evil 
thoughts by the devil ; more enlightened people have recourse to 
material remedies and put their case in the hands of a doctor." 

Of the so-called " exalted ideas " Wernicke says : " These are 
sharply denned from autochthonous ideas by the fact that they 

1 " Grundriss der Psychiatric," Leipzig, 1906, p. 104, 


are in no way regarded by the patient himself as alien intruders 
into his consciousness : on the contrary, he sees in them the 
stamp of his innermost self, and fancies that, in vindicating them, 
he is in reality asserting his own personality." 

" One has to determine in each individual case whether the 
idea is truly morbid and exalted, or does not come within 
normal bounds." 1 On the next page he declares : " That almost 
any incident may give rise to an exalted idea, that the nature 
of the emotion may be of the most varied character, and that 
ideas exist, which, though in themselves normal, are nevertheless 
able so to determine the individual s action as to impress on it 
a morbid stamp." 

H. Friedmann 2 says of the same class of ideas : " According 
to its origin the exalted idea . . . may find a place in the 
mental process without any apparent cause. A strong emotion 
may, so to speak, fling itself on a single idea, and, without any 
actual derangement of the mind, allow it, and it alone, to assume 
a morbid supremacy." A few pages further we read : 3 "Hence, 
as a matter of fact, in the case of the exalted idea, we have not 
an isolated monomaniacal affection but a general disturbance of 
the emotions and judgment. The result, likewise, is not an idee 
fixe as in the case of mania, but merely a strong belief." 

1 Ib., p. 141 f. 

2 " Monatsschr. fur Psychiatrie," Berlin, 1907, p. 230, 
Ib., p. 236. 



IN later life, looking back on his past, Luther was in the 
habit of depicting certain of its principal phases in a way 
which is at variance with the facts, and which even Protes 
tants in recent times have characterised, as " a picture in 
which he becomes a myth unto himself." 1 

It will be no matter for surprise to the dispassionate 
observer that the memory of the vows Luther had broken 
and the thought of his early days in the monastery which 
presented so striking a contrast with his later life were 
subject-matters of warped and distorted images. Particu 
larly is this true of his monastic years which he insists on 
depicting as one long night of sadness and despair. 

Not merely in the fictions in which he came to shroud the 
more fervent days of his life as a monk, but also in his 
explanations of the various stages of his apostasy, Luther 
affords us fresh data for the psychological study of his 
personality, and thus the present chapter may serve to 
supplement the previous one. Only after having studied 
the legend he wove around himself and compared it with the 
truth as otherwise known, will it be possible to arrive at a 
considered judgment concerning Luther s mental states. 

1. Luther s later Picture of his Convent Life and Apostasy 

What Luther says of his life as a monk is what will 
chiefly interest us, but, before proceeding to consider his 
words and the strange problems they present, we must first 
refer to the legendary traits comprised in his statements on 
the first period of his struggle ; how false they are to the 
facts will be clearly perceived by whoever has read the 
detailed accounts already given. 

1 A. Hausrath, " Luthers Leben," 2, p. 432. 



The Legend about his First Public Appearance 

" Not only have the dates been altered," says Hausrath, 
of Luther s later statements concerning his first public 
appearance, " but even the facts. No sooner does the 
elderly man begin to tell his tale than the past becomes as 
soft wax in his hands. The same words are placed on the 
lips, now of this, now of that, friend or foe. The opponents 
of his riper years are depicted as his persecutors even in his 
youth. Albert of Mayence had never acted otherwise 
towards him than as a liar and deceiver. Even previous to 
the Worms visit he had sought to annul his safe-conduct. . . . 
Of Tetzel he now asserts, that, unless Duke Frederick had 
pleaded for him to the Emperor Max, he would have been 
put in a sack and drowned in the Inn on account of his 
dissolute life. . . . The same holds good of the [equally 
untrue] statement that Tetzel had sold indulgences for 
sins yet to be committed. ... It is also an exaggeration 
of his old age when Luther asserts that, in his youth, the 
Bible had been a closed book to all. ... To the old 
Reformer almost everything in the monastery appears in 
the blackest of hues." 1 * 

" The reason of my journey to Rome," he declares, " was to 
make a confession from the days of my boyhood and to become 
pious." 2 "But at Rome I came across the most unlearned of 
men." 3 God "led me, all unwittingly, into the game [his 
struggle]." 4 " I behaved with moderation, yet I brought the 
greatest ruin on them all." 5 "I thought I was doing the Pope 
a service yet I was condemned." 8 " One, and that not the least 
of my joys and consolations, is, that I never put myself out of the 
Papacy. For I held fast to the Scarlet Woman and served the 
murderess in all things most humbly. But she would have none 
of me, banished me and drove me from her." 7 " I only inveighed 
against abuses and against the godless collectors of alms and 
[indulgence] commissioners from whom even Canon Law itself 
protects the Pope. The Pope wanted to defend them contrary 
to his own laws ; this annoyed me. Had he thrown them over 
I should in all likelihood have held my tongue, but the hour had 
rung for his downfall ; hence there was nothing to be done for 
him, for when God intends to bring about a man s fall He blinds 
and hardens him." 8 "I was utterly dead to the world until God 

1 Ib., p. 432 f. 2 " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 3, p. 169. 

3 Ib. (from Rebenstock). 4 Ib., p. 175. 

6 Ib., p. 170. Ib. 7 Erl. ed., 31, p. 257. 

8 " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 3, p. 195. 


thought the time had come ; then Junker Tetzel stung me with 
his indulgences, and Dr. Staupitz spurred me on against the 
Pope." 1 "Silvester [Prierias] thereupon entered the lists and 
sought to overwhelm me with the thunders of the following 
syllogism : Whoever raises doubts against any word or deed of 
the Roman Church is a heretic ; Martin Luther doubts, etc. 
With that the ball began." 2 

Generally speaking, however, Luther prefers to trace the 
whole of his quarrel with the Church back to Tetzel and to 
his righteous censure of the abuse of indulgences. He seems 
to have completely forgotten the deep theological chasm 
that separated him from the Church even before his quarrel 
with Tetzel. His theological attitude at that time, the 
starting-point of his whole undertaking, has disappeared 
from his purview ; he has forgotten his burning desire to 
win the day for his own doctrines against free-will, against 
the value of works, against justification as taught by 
Catholic tradition, and for his denial of God s Will that all 
men should be saved. His early antagonism to the theo 
logical schools and to Canon Law as a whole has lapsed 
into oblivion. 3 

In the preface to the 1545 edition of his Latin works Luther 
asserts, as a fact, that he had been estranged from the Church 
only through the indulgence controversy. 

He had, so we there read, taken his vocation as a monk quite 
in earnest ; he " feared and dreaded the Day of Judgment and 
yet had longed with all his heart to be saved. ... It was not 
my fault that I became involved in this warfare, as I call God 
Himself to witness." 

In order to make the " beginning of the business " plain to all 
he goes on to relate to the whole world, how, as a young Doctor 
in 1517, relying on the Pope s approval, he had raised his voice 
in protest against the " shamelessness " of the indulgence- 
preachers ; how, when his small outcry passed unheeded, he had 
published the indulgence-theses and, then, in the " Resolutions," 
" for the Pope s own sake," had advocated works of neighbourly 
charity as preferable to indulgences. Here was the cause of all 
the world s hostility ! His teaching was alleged " to have dis 
turbed the course of the heavenly spheres and to be setting the 
world in flames. I was delated to the Pope and then summoned 

1 76., p. 188 : " . . . et D. Staupitius me incitabat contra papam." 

2 /&., p. 176. 

3 See above, vol. i., pp. 104 ff., 184 ff., 303 ff., where his theological 
attitude previous to the indulgence theses is discussed. It is taken 
for granted that the account of his development given in vol. i. is 
already known to the reader. The fictions have already been discounted 
in vol. i., p. 20 f. and p. 110 f. 


to Rome ; the whole might of Popery was up in arms against 
poor me." 

He records his trial at Augsburg, the intervention of Miltitz and 
the Leipzig Disputation, but records it in a way all his own. 
At that date he already knew almost the entire Bible by heart 
and " had already reached the beginning of the knowledge and 
faith of Christ, to wit, that we are saved and justified, not by 
works, but by faith in Christ, and that the Pope is not the head of 
the Church by right Divine ; but I failed to see the inevitable 
consequence of all this, viz. that the Pope must needs be of the 
devil." Like the " blameless monk " that he was, his only trouble 
in life was his keen anxiety as to whether God was gracious to 
him and whether he could " rest assured that he had conciliated 
Him by the satisfaction he had made." The words of the Bible 
on the justice of God had angered him because he had erroneously 
taken this to mean His punitive justice instead of the justice 
whereby God makes us just. Then, when he was setting about 
his second Commentary on the Psalms (1518-19), amidst the 
greatest excitement of conscience (" furebam ita sceva et per- 
turbata conscientia ") the light from above had dawned on him 
which brought him to a complete understanding of the Divine 
justice whereby we are justified. Paul s words concerning the 
just man who lives by faith (Rom. i. 17) had then, and only then, 
become clear to him (through his discovery of the assurance of 

After referring to the Diet of Worms he again reverts to his 
pet subject, viz. the indulgence-controversy : " The affair of the 
controversy regarding indulgences dragged on till 1520-21 ; then 
followed the question of the Sacrament and that of the Ana 

This is how Luther wrote confusing the events and 
suppressing the principal point when, towards the end of 
his life, he penned for posterity a record of what had 
occurred. Otto Scheel, in a compilation of the texts bearing 
on Luther s development prior to 1519, rightly places this 
later account, together with the other statements made by 
him in old age, under the heading : " second and third rate 
authorities." 1 What, however, are we to think when the 
considered narrative, written by a man of such eminence, 
of events in which he was the chief actor, has to be relegated 
to the category of second-rate and even third-rate author 
ities ? 2 

1 " Dokumente zu Luthers Entwicklung " (" Sammlung ausge- 
wahlter kirchen- und dogmengesch. Quellenschriften," 2, Reihe 9. 
Hft.), 1911, p. 11 ff. 

2 Luther s untrustworthiness here, where it is a question of his 
polemics, does not render untrue certain other data of a non-polemical 
character and otherwise supported. This is the case, e.g. with the 


To enumerate some other misrepresentations not con 
nected with his monkish days : Luther assures us that 
sundry opponents of his " had blasphemed themselves to 
death " ; men who had the most peaceful of deathbeds he 
alleges to have died tortured by remorse of conscience and 
railing at God. He boasts aloud that it was the Papists who 
made a " good theologian " of him, since, " at the devil s 
instigation," they had so battered, distressed and frightened 
him out of his wits, that he necessarily came to obtain a 
more profound knowledge. 1 Boldly and exultingly he points 
to the many " miracles " whereby the Evangel had been 
proved. 2 He says of the Diets, that the Papists always 
succeeded in wriggling out of a hole by dint of lies, so that 
they looked quite white and " without ever a stain." 3 Of 
his own writings he says, that he " would gladly have seen all 
his books unwritten and consigned to the fire." 4 This in 
1533, and again in 1539. 5 Before this, however, he had 
declared he would not forswear any of his writings, " not for 
all the riches of the world," and that, at least as a good work 
wrought by God, they must have some worth.* 

In such wise does the picture he gives of his life vary 
according to his moods. He does not hesitate to sacrifice 
the sacred rights of truth when this seems to the advantage 
of his polemics (see above, vol. iv., p. 80 ff.), and, owing to 
the peculiar constitution of his mind, the fiction he so often 
repeats becomes eventually stamped as a reality to which he 
himself accords credence. 

The Legend about his Years of Monkish Piety 

We may now turn to Luther s fictions regarding his 
monkish days, prefacing our remarks with the words of 
Luther s Protestant biographer, Adolf Hausrath. " The 
picture of his youth is forced to tally more and more with 
the convictions of his older years. What he now looks upon 

date given above when the meaning of Rom. i. 17 first dawned upon 
him ; this happens to agree with the facts. Cp. above, vol. i., p. 388 ff. 

1 Erl. ed., 63, p. 405, in the preface of 1539 to his German writings. 

2 See vol. iii., p. 153 ff. Cp. " Werke," ib,. p. 370, in a preface of 
1531, where, referring to the " many and great miracles," he makes no 
distinction between Evangel and Gospel. 

3 Ib., p. 373 (1542). 

4 Ib,, p. 400 in the preface of 1539 to his German writings. 
6 Ib., p. 328. Ib., p. 295 (1530). 


as pernicious, he declares he had found in those days to be so 
by his own experience. . . . The oftener he holds up to his 
listening guests the warning picture of the monk sunk in the 
abyss of Popery, the more gloomy and starless does the 
night appear to him in which he once had lived." 1 

That the use hitherto made of Luther s statements con 
cerning his convent life calls for correction has already been 
admitted by several Protestant students of reformation 
history. As early as 1874 Maurenbrecher protested strongly 
against the too great reliance placed on Luther s own later 
statements, which, however, at that time, constituted 
almost the only authority for his early history. " How 
wrong it is to accept on faith and repeat anew Luther s 
tradition is quite obvious. Whoever wishes to relate Luther s 
early history must first of all be quite clear in his mind as 
to this characteristic of the material on which he has to 
work. . . . The history of Luther s youth is still virgin 
soil awaiting the labours of the critic." 2 The objections 
recently brought forward by Catholics have drawn from 
W. Friedensburg the admission that we have unreliable, 
and, " in part, misleading statements of Luther s concern 
ing himself." 3 G. Kawerau also at least goes so far as to 
admit that the historian of Luther at the present day " is 
inevitably confronted by a number of new questions." 4 
The publication of Luther s Commentary on Romans of 
1515-16 finally proved how necessary it is to regard the 
theology of his early years as the chief authority for the 
history of his development. Hence, in the account of his 
youth given above in vol. i., we took this Commentary as 
our basis. 

A preliminary sketch of the picture he handed down in 
his later sayings is given us by Luther himself in the 
following : 

God had caused him to become a monk, he says, " not without 
good reasons, viz. that, taught by experience, he might be able to 
write against the Papacy," after having himself most rigidly 
isime ") abided by its rules. 5 "This goes on until one 

1 Hausrath, " Luthers Leben," 2, p. 432. 

2 " Studien und Skizzen zur Gesch. des Reformationszeitalters," 
p. 219. 

3 " Schriften des Vereins f. RG.," Hft. 100, 1910, p. 14. Cp. K. A. 
Meissinger, quoted above, vol. ii., p. 362, n. 2. 

4 " Theol. Stud, und Krit.," 1908, p. 580. 

5 " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 3, p. 182. 


grows quite weary " ; " now my other preaching has come : 
Christ says : Take this from me : You are not pious, I have 
done it all for you, your sins are forgiven you. " l According to 
the "Popish teaching," however, one cannot be sure "whether 
he is in a state of grace " ; hence, when in the cloister, though I 
was such a "pious monk," I always said sorrowfully to myself: 
" I know not whether God is well pleased or not. Thus I and all 
of us were swallowed up in unbelief." 2 

Hence churches and convents are nothing but " dens of 
murderers " because they " pervert and destroy doctrine and 
prayer." "Indeed no monk or priestling can do otherwise, as 
I know, and have myself experienced"; "I never knew in the 
least how I stood with God " ; "I was never able to pray 
aright." 3 This holiness-by-works of Popery, in which I was 
steeped, was nothing but " idolatry and godless worship." 4 

" Learn," he says, thus unwittingly laying bare the aim of his 
fiction, " learn from my example." " The more I scourged 
myself, the more was I troubled by remorse of conscience." 5 
" We did not then know what original sin was ; unbelief we did 
not regard as sin." 6 Their " unbelief," however, consisted in that 
we Papists fancied " that we had to add our own works " (to the 
merits of Christ). 7 " Hence, for all my fervour, I lost the twenty 
years I spent in the cloister." 8 But I did not want to " stick fast 
and die in sin and in this false doctrine " ; for such a pupil of 
the law must in the end say to himself " that it is impossible for 
him to keep the Law " ; indeed he cannot but come to say : 
" would there were no God." 10 

Roughly, this is the tone of the testimony he gives of him 
self. It is not our intention here simply to spurn it, but to 
examine whether there is any call to accept it uncondition 
ally simply because it comes from Luther s lips and 
whether it comprises a certain quota of truth. 11 

First, it must be noted that he represents himself as a sort 
of fanatical martyr of penance. He assures us : Even the 
heroic works of mortification I undertook brought me no 
peace in Popery : " Ergo," etc. He here opens an entirely 

1 Weim. ed., 33, p. 431 f. ; Erl. ed., 48, p. 201. 

2 lb., 49, p. 118. 3 Ib., 20 2 , 2, p. 420. 

4 " Comment, in Galat.," Weim. ed., 40, 1, p. 138 ; Irmischer, 1, 
p. 109 sq. 

5 " Opp. lat. exeg.," 19, p. 100. 6 76., 7, p. 74. 

7 Weim. ed., 33, p. 560 ; Erl. ed., 48, p. 306. 

8 Erl. ed., 49, p. 27. Cp. 20, 2, p. 420. 

9 Weim. ed., 33, p. 575 ; Erl. ed., 48, p. 317. 

10 Erl. ed., 46, p. 73. 

11 At the time the present writer s series of articles on Luther s 
intellectual development was appearing in the " K6ln. Volkszeitung " 
(1903, 1904), Denifle s work which also insists on the unreliable nature 
of the legend ("Luther und Luthertum,"! 1 1904, pp. 389 ff., 725 f., 
739 f.) was already in print. 

VI. O 


new page in his past. He tells his friends, for instance : 
" I nearly killed myself by fasting, for often, for three days 
on end, I did not take a bite or a sip. I was in the most 
bitter earnest and, indeed, I crucified our Lord Christ in very 
truth ; I was not one of those who merely looked on, but 
I actually lent a hand in dragging Him along and nailing 
Him. May God forgive me ! . . . for this is true : The 
more pious the monk the worse rogue he is." 1 

" I myself," he says in his Commentary on Genesis, " was such 
an one [a pious monk]. I nearly brought about my death by 
fasting, abstinence and penance in work and clothing ; my body 
became dreadfully emaciated and was quite worn out." 2 

The menace of death is also alluded to in a sermon of 1537 : 
" For more than twenty years I was a pious monk," " I said 
Mass daily and so weakened my body by prayer and fasting that 
I could not have lived long had I continued in this way." 3 Else 
where he says that he had allowed himself only two more years 
of life, and that, not he alone, but all his brethren were ripe for 
death : "In Popery in times bygone we howled for everlasting 
life ; for the sake of the kingdom of heaven we treated ourselves 
very harshly, nay, put our bodies to death, not indeed with 
sword or weapon, but, by fasting and maceration of the body we 
begged and besought day and night. I myself had I not been 
set free by the consolation of Christ in the Evangel could not 
have lived two years more, so greatly did I torment myself and 
flee God s wrath. There was no lack of sighs, tears and lamenta 
tions, but it all availed us nothing." 4 

" Why did I endure such hardships in the cloister ? Why did 
I torment my body by fasting, vigils and cold ? I strove to 
arrive at the certainty that thereby my sins were forgiven." 6 
The martyrdom he endured from the cold alone was agonising 
enough : " For twenty years I myself was a monk and tormented 
myself with praying, fasting, watching and shivering, the cold by 
itself making me heartily desirous of death." 6 

Besides his penances another main feature of his later 
picture is his extraordinary, albeit misguided, piety and 

It is not enough for Luther to say that he had been a pious 
monk, " an earnest monk," who " would not have taken a 
farthing without the Prior s permission," and who " prayed 

1 " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 3, p. 183. 

2 " Opp. lat. exeg.," 11, p. 123 (1545). 

3 Erl. ed., 49, p. 300. Comm. on John xiv.-xvi., of 1537. 

4 " Opp. lat. exeg.," 7, p. 72. " Enarr. in Genesim," c.a. 1541. 

5 Ib., 5, p. 267, a. 1539. 

6 Erl. ed., 49, p. 27 (1537). 


diligently day and night" j 1 he will have, that "if ever a monk 
got to heaven by monkery then I should have got there ; of this 
all my brother monks will bear me witness." 2 

He had been more diligent in his monastic exercises of piety 
than any of the Papists who took the field against him. 3 

Nay, "he had been one of the very best." 4 He "confessed 
daily" [Is this a reference to the Confession made in the 
Mass ?] and "tried hard" to find peace, but did not succeed. 5 
Daily, he tells us, he " said Mass and imposed on himself the 
severest hardships," in order, " by his own works, to attain to 
righteousness." 6 It was because the devil had remarked his 
righteousness, that he tempted him when engaged in prayer in 
his cell by appearing to him in the shape of Christ, as already 
narrated. 7 God, however, tried him by temptations just as He 
tries those of the elect through whom He intends to do great 
things for the salvation of mankind. 8 He, like the other cloistral 
Saints, had been so penetrated with his sanctity, that, after 
Mass, he " did not thank God for the Sacrament but rather God 
had to thank him." 9 He fancied himself in " the angel-choirs," 
but had all the while been " among the devils." 10 Cloistral life 
was indeed " a latrine and the devil s own sweet Empire." 11 

Other characteristic lines of the picture are, first, the 
dreadful way in which his mind was torn by doubts con 
cerning his own salvation, doubts arising simply from his 
works of piety, and, secondly, his speedy deliverance from 
such sufferings and attainment of peace and tranquillity 
as soon as he had discovered the Evangel of faith. He 
cannot find colours sombre enough in which to paint his 
former state of misery, which is also the inevitable experi 
ence of all pious Papists. 

" In the convent I had no thought of goods, wealth or wife, 
but my soul shuddered and quaked at the thought of how to 
make God gracious to me, for I had fallen away from the faith 

1 Weim. ed., 33, p. 561 ; Erl. ed., 48, p. 306. Comm. on John 
vi.-viii., 1531. 

2 Erl. ed., 31, p. 273. " Kleine An wort auff H. Georgen nehestes 
Buch," 1533. 

3 Comment, in Galat., Weim. ed., 40, 1, p. 135 ; Irmischer, 1, 
p. 107. Cp. p. 138 =p. 109. The passage was only introduced by 
Luther in the 1538 ed., a fact remarkable for the history of the legend. 

4 Erl. ed., 20 2 , 2, p. 420. 

5 Comment, in Galat. ed. Irmischer, 3, p. 20, 1535. 

6 "Opp. lat. exeg.," 18, p. 226. Enar. in ps. 45, a. 1532. 

7 See above, p. 126. 8 See above, p. 150. 
9 Erl. ed. 58, p. 377. 

10 "Opp. lat. exeg.," 23, p. 401. Enarr. in Is. (1543). 

11 Comm. in Gal. Weim. ed., 40, 1, p. 137 ; Irmischer, 1, p. 109, of 


and my one idea was that I had angered God and had to soothe 
Him once more by my good works." 1 "As a young Master at 
Erfurt I always went about oppressed with sadness." 3 But, 
after his discovery he had felt himself " born anew," as though 
" through an open door he had passed into Paradise." The 
words Justice of God suddenly became " very sweet " to him 
and the Bible doctrine in question a " very gate of heaven." 
" Holy Scripture now appeared to me in quite a new light." 3 

He had, indeed, studied the Bible diligently in his early 
monkish years, but he had, nevertheless, been greatly tempted 
and plagued by the " real difficulties " ; his confessors had not 
understood him. " I said to myself : No one but you suffers 
from this temptation." And he had become " like a corpse," so 
that his comrades asked him why he was " so mournful and 
downhearted." 4 

Particularly the doctrine of penance had, he says, so borne him 
down that " it was hardly possible for him, at the price of great 
toil and thanks to God s grace, to come to that hearing that gives 
joy [Ps. 1. 10]." For " if you have to wait until you have the 
requisite contrition then you will never come to that hearing of 
joy, as, in the cloister, I often found to my cost ; for I clung to 
this doctrine of contrition, but the more I strove after rue, the 
more I smarted and the more did the bite of conscience eat into 
me. The absolution and other consolations given me by my 
confessors I was unable to take because I thought : Who knows if 
such consolations are to be trusted." 6 On one occasion, however, 
the master of novices strengthened and encouraged him amidst his 
tears by asking him : Have you forgotten that the Lord Himself 
commanded us to hope ? 6 

Nevertheless, according to the strange description given by 
Luther in a sermon in 1531, his keen anxiety about his con 
fessions lasted until after his ordination. " I, Martin Luther," 
so he told the people, " when I went up to the altar after confession 
and contrition felt myself so weighed down by fear that I had to 
beckon to me another priest. After the Mass, again, I was no more 
reassured than before." His trouble which was possibly 
caused, or at any rate heightened, by the spirit of obstinacy and 
scepticism he describes was, however (and it is on this that 
he lays stress), common to all Papists whose consciences could 
never be at rest. " They became its victims chiefly at the hour 
of death. How much did we dread the Last Judgment ! . . . 

1 Erl. ed. 45, p. 156. Sermon of Dec. 7, 1539. 

2 Lauterbach, "Tagebuch," p. 36. From Khummer, no date, but 
a late utterance. 

3 " Opp. lat. var.," 1, p. 23, preface to the Latin works (1545). 

4 N. Ericeus, " Sylvula sententiarum," 1566, p. 174 ff. 
^ " Opp. lat. exeg.," 19, p. 100 (1532). 

6 To Bugenhagen (1532), preface to the latter s edition of Athan- 
asius, " De trinitate," " Opp. lat. var.," 7, p. 523 (" Brief wechsel," 9, 
p. 252). 


That was our reward for our works." 1 The truth is, that, on his 
own showing, he scarcely knew what inward contrition was, and 
that he remained too much a stranger to the motive of holy 
fear. 2 

To the period subsequent to his ordination must be assigned 
assurances such as the following, the tone of which becomes more 
and more crude the older he grows. " From that time [of his 
first Mass] I said Mass with great horror, and thank God that He 
has delivered me from it." 3 "When I looked on [a figure of] 
Christ I fancied I was looking at the devil. That is why we say : 
O, Mary, pray for us to thy beloved Son and appease His wrath." 
If I follow the principles of the monks and Papists, then " I lose 
Christ my Healer and Consoler and make Him into the task 
master and hangman of my poor soul." 4 

" As long as I remained a Papist I should have blushed with 
shame to speak of Christ ; Jesus is a womanish name ; we 
preferred to speak of Aristotle or Bonaventure." 5 He also says : 
" Often have I trembled at the name of Jesus ; when I saw Him 
on the cross it was like a thunderbolt and when His Name was 
mentioned I would rather have heard the devil invoked, for I 
raved that I had to go on doing good works until I had thereby 
made Christ friendly and gracious to me." 6 

They used to say : " Scourge yourself until you have yourself 
blotted out your sin. Such is the Pope s doctrine and belief." 7 
Thus, in the monastery, I had " long since lost Christ and His 
baptism. I was of all men the most wretched, day and night 
there was nothing but howling and despair which no one was able 
to calm. Thus I was bathed and baptised in my monkery and 
went through the real sweating sickness. Praise be to God that 
I did not sweat myself to death." 8 

Those Protestants who take Luther s statements too 
readily, without probing them to the bottom and eliminating 
the rhetorical and fabulous element, are apt to urge that 
Luther s descriptions of the monastic state show that noth 
ing but mental derangement could result from such a life. 

1 Weim, ed., 34, 2, p. 410 (1531). In the text, for " deinde quando," 
read " deinde quanta." A second hasty report, ib., gives the passage in 
this form: " Multos scio, et ego unus fui, quando confessus and clean 
et dixi orationes meas, I came to the altar it was all not worth a 
straw ; vocabam presbyterum, et quando absolutio had been pronounced 
et missa perfecta [erat], turn certus ut antea [eram] and as much at 
peace with God ut antea, ..." Of the Last Day: "Ego nonlibenter 
audiebam istum diem" 

Above, vol. i., p. 290 f. 3 Ericeus, " Sylvula," I.e. 

G. Buchwald, " Ungedruckte Predigten Luthers 1537-1540, 
1905, p. 61 f. Scheel, " Dokumente," p. x., n. 

Schlaginhaufen, " Aufzeichn.," p. 122 (1532). 

Erl. ed., 45, p. 156. Sermon of Dec. 7, 1539. 

Ib., p. 154, from the same sermon. 

Ib., 31, p. 279. " Anwort auff H. Georgen nehestes Buch. 


Dr. Kirchhoff, a medical man, basing his remarks on 
Luther s accounts, is inclined to assume the existence of 
some severe temperamental malady. He even goes so far 
as to say that, at any rate, countless numbers of monks 
lost their reason. " In the course of time," he adds, Luther 
" acquired a greater power of resisting the temptations, and, 
possibly, in his quieter after-life the physical causes may 
have diminished ; it would appear that the accompanying 
conditions disquieted him greatly." 1 

The fact is that Protestant authors as a rule fight shy of 
undertaking any criticism of Luther s account of himself. 
They accord it far too ready credence and usually see in it 
a capital pretext for attacking the olden Church. 

If Luther is to be taken literally and is right in his 
generalisations, then we should have to go even further 
than such writers and argue that, one and all, those who 
sought to be pious in the religious life were mad, or at least 
on the verge of insanity ; the Church, by her doctrine of 
works, of satisfaction and of man s co-operation with Grace, 
infects all who address themselves zealously to the perform 
ance of good works with the poison of a subtle insanity. 

We need waste no further words here on the falsehood 
of Luther s objections against the Catholic doctrine of 
works. 2 

We may pass over the countless clear and authentic proofs 
furnished by Luther s elders and contemporaries, and even 
by Luther himself previous to his apostasy, which place the 
Catholic doctrine on works in a very different light. The 
Church, in point of fact, always refused to hear of works 
done solely by man s strength being efficacious for salvation, 
and regarded only those works performed by the aid of 
God s supernatural Grace as of any value and that through 
the merits of Christ whether for the purpose of preparing 
for justification or for winning an everlasting reward ; she 
always recognised faith, hope and charity as conditions for 
forgiveness and justification, and as the threefold spring 
whereby good works are rendered fruitful. 

There can be no question that Luther s picture of his 
holiness-by-works in Popery is meant to include all his 
earnest brother monks and their mistaken way of life, and 

1 Dr. Kirchhoff, " Zeitschr. f. Psychiatrie," vol. 44, 1888, p. 376. 

2 Cp. previous volumes, passim, particularly vol. iv., pp. 120-31. 


the doctrine and religious practices of Popery as such. The 
fiction serves a twofold purpose. On the one hand, as its 
author gives us to understand quite openly, it was his 
excuse for having shaken off the yoke of the religious life, 
on the other, it was to be used as a weapon against the olden 
doctrine of the importance of works for personal salvation. 
To be true to history, one must judge of his account of his 
Catholic life from these two standpoints. How extremely 
unreliable it is will then be more apparent. The following 
observations on the contrast his account presents with 
historical truth, particularly with the well-authenticated 
incidents of his development, and even with the elements of 
truth which he introduces into the legend, will place the 
grave shortcomings of the latter in an even clearer light. 

Since Luther would have us believe that God caused him to 
become a monk, in order that, taught by his own experience, he 
might write against the Papacy, 1 no sooner does he begin to 
speak of himself than he includes in the same condemnation his 
brother monks and all those Christians who were zealous in the 
practice of works. 

Under the Pope s yoke he and all other Papists had been made 
to feel to their " great and heavy detriment " what it spelt when 
one tried to become pious by means of works. We grew more 
and more despondent concerning sin and death. . . . For the 
more they do the worse their state becomes. 2 " Thus I, and all 
those in the convent, were bondsmen and captives of Satan." 3 
" We hoped to find salvation through our frock." 4 With us all 
it was " rank idolatry," for I did not believe in Christ, etc. 5 
Because we endured so many " sufferings of heart and conscience 
and performed so many works," no one must now come and seek 
to excuse Popery. 8 "We fled from Christ as from the very 
devil, for we were taught that each one would be placed before 
the judgment seat of Christ with his works " 7 a teaching which is, 
indeed, almost word for word that of St. Paul (2 Cor. v. 10). 

Remembering the other utterances in which he makes all Papists 
share in his alleged experiences, for instance, in his " unbelief," 
we soon perceive how unreliable are all such statements of his 
concerning the history of his personal development. The whole 
is seen to be primarily but a new form of controversy and self- 
vindication ; only by dint of cautious criticism can we extract 
from it certain traits which possibly serve to illustrate the course 
of his mental growth in the monastery. 

1 " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 3, p. 182. See above, p. 192. 

2 Erl. ed., 14 2 , p. 342. 

3 Comment, in ep. ad Galat., Weim. ed., 40, 1, p. 137. Irmischer, 
1, P. 109. * Erl. ed., 47, p. 37. 

5 /&., 49, p. 27. 6 /&., 45, p. 156 f. 7 76. 


Again, several details of the picture quite apart from the 
obvious effort to burden the olden Church with a monstrous 
system of holiness-by-works warn us to be sceptical. First 
of all there is the customary rhetoric and playing to the 
gallery. The palpable exaggeration it contains, its refer 
ences to the howling by day and by night, to the scourgings, 
to the tortures of hunger and cold, to the endless prayers 
and watchings, and to the ravings of the woebegone searchers 
after peace, do not prepossess us in favour of the truth of 
the account. Luther, in so much of what he says on the 
point, has shown us how little he is to be taken seriously, 
that one cannot but wonder how his statements, even when 
exaggerated to the verge of the ludicrous, can ever have been 
regarded in the light of real authorities. 

He is not telling the truth when he assures us that, as Doctor 
of Divinity, he had never rightly understood the Ten Command 
ments, and that many other famous doctors had not known 
" whether there were nine, or ten, or eleven of them ; much less 
did we know anything of the Gospel or of Christ." l After outward 
works, indeed, we ran, but " what God has commanded, that we 
omitted . . . for the Papists trouble themselves about neither 
the Commandments nor the promises of God." 2 In choir the 
community daily chanted Psalm li. (L), in which joy in the Lord 
is extolled, but " there was not one who understood what joy to 
the pious is a firm trust in God s Mercy." 3 

We have, for instance, his remarkable saying, that he had 
looked upon it as a deadly sin for a monk ever to come out of his 
cell without his scapular, even though otherwise fully dressed. 
Yet no reasonable man acquainted with the religious life, how 
ever observant he might be, would have been capable of such 
fears. Luther declares that he had seen a sin in every infringe 
ment of the rule of his Order ; yet the Rule was never intended 
to bind under pain of sin, as indeed was expressly stated. He 
asserts that he had believed, that, had he made but a slight 
mistake or omission in the Mass, he "would be lost" ; yet no 
educated priest ever believed such a thing, or thought that small 
faults amounted to mortal sins. 

As an instance of the Papal tyranny over consciences he was 
wont to tell in his old age how he had tortured himself on the 
Saturday by reciting the whole of the Breviary that he had 
omitted to say during the week owing to his other occupations. 
" This is how we poor folk were plagued by the Pope s decretals ; 
of this our young people know nothing." His account 4 of these 
repetitions varies considerably in the telling. He expects us to 
believe he was not aware of the fact, familiar to every beginner in 

1 76., 14 2 , p. 185. 2 " Opp. lat. exeg.," 10, p. 232. 

3 76., 19, p. 100. 4 See above, vol. i., p. 278. 


theology, that the recitation of the Hours and the Breviary is 
imposed as an obligation for the day, which expires as soon as 
the day is over, so that its omission cannot be afterwards made 
good by repetition. From his account it would on the contrary 
appear that the " Pope s decrees " had imposed such subsequent 
making good. Even should he really, in his earlier days when he 
first began to neglect the Breviary, have occasionally repeated 
the task subsequently, yet it is too bad of him to make it part 
of the monkish legend and an instance of how "we poor fellows 
were tormented." 1 

"It is an astonishing and dreadful thing," he proceeds, 
44 that men should have been so mad ! " Those who live 
in the religious life and according to man-made ordinances 
44 do not deserve to be called men nor even swine " ; 2 a 
44 hateful and accursed life " was it, with 44 all their filth ! " 

The young monk too could we trust Luther s account 
must have been seriously wanting in discretion where 
mortification was concerned, and a like indiscretion was 
evinced by all others who took the religious vocation in 
earnest. But the extravagant asceticism such as Luther 
would have us believe he practised, and the theological 
assumption underlying it, viz. that salvation depends on 
bodily mortification, are quite against the older teaching 
in vogue in his time. We may quote a few instances of the 
teaching to the contrary. 

Thomas Aquinas declares : " Abstinence from food and drink 
in itself does not promote salvation," according to Rom. xiv. 17, 
where we read : " The kingdom of heaven is not meat and 
drink." He recognises only the medicinal value of fasting and 
abstinence, and points out that by such practices " concupiscence 
is kept in check " ; hence he deduces the necessity of discretion 
("ad modicum") and warns people against the "vain glory" 
and other faults which may result from these practices. Not 
by such works, nor by any works whatsoever, is a man saved 
and justified, but " man s salvation and justice," so he teaches, 
" consist mainly in inward acts of faith, of hope and of charity, 
and not in outward ones. . . . Man may scorn all measure 
where faith, hope and charity are concerned, but, in outward 
acts, he must make use of the measure of discretion." 4 

1 Cp. apart from the ** Dicta Melanchthoniana " (ed. Waltz, 
" Zeitschr. f. KG.," 4, 1880, p. 324 ff.), p. 330 : " diebus Sabbati, cum 
esset vacuus a concionibus," etc., " initio evangelii " " Colloq.," ed. 
Bindseil, where the same thing is related no less than three times : 1, 
p. 67 ; 1, p. 198 ; 3, p. 279, the German Table-Talk, Erl. ed., 59, pp. 10 
and 21, and Ericeus, " Sylvula Sententiarum," 1566, p. 174 sq. 

2 Erl. ed., 47, p. 37. " 3 /&., 49, p. 315. 

4 Aquinas, " Summa theol.," 3, q. 40, a. 2 ad 1. In ep. ad Tim. 


But perhaps the best ascetical writer to refer to in this connec 
tion is John Gerson of Paris, who was so much read in the 
monasteries and with whom Luther was well acquainted. He 
assigns to outward works, particularly to severe acts of penance, 
the place they had, even from the earliest times, held in the 
Church. He bids Religious care above all for inward virtue, which 
they are to regard as the main thing, for self-denial and for obedi 
ence out of love of God. He appeals to the Fathers and warns 
his readers that " indiscreet abstinence may more easily lead to 
a bad end than even over-feeding." Discretion could not be better 
practised than in humility and obedience, by forsaking one s 
own notions and submitting to the advice of the expert ; such 
obedience was never more in place than in a Religious. l 

These are but two notable witnesses taken from the 
endless tale of those whose testimony is at variance with 
the charges implied in Luther s legend, that the monks were 
regardless of discretion where penance was concerned. 

That Luther is guilty of self-contradiction in attributing 
to the Catholic teachers and monks of his day such mistaken 
views and practices and the doctrine of holiness-by-works 
generally is fairly obvious. 

If the young monk really " kept the Rule," then his extrava 
gant penances for the purpose of gaining a gracious God can have 
had no existence outside his brain ; the Rule prohibited all 
exaggeration in fasting and maceration, wilful loss of sleep and 
senseless exposure to cold. The Augustinian Rule, devised 
expressly as it was, to be not too severe in view of the exacting 
labours involved by preaching and the care of souls, had been 
further mitigated on the side of its penitential exercises by 
Staupitz s new constitutions in 1504. 2 It was true the prior 
might sanction something beyond what the Rule enjoined, but 
it is scarcely credible that a beginner like Luther should have 
been allowed to exceed to such an extent the limit of what was 
adapted to all. His bodily powers were already sufficiently taxed 
by his studies, the more so since he threw himself into them with 
such impetuous ardour. It is all the less likely that any such special 

c. 4, lect. 2. " Summa theol.," 2, 2, q. 88, a, 2 ad 3. Denifle, ib., I 2 , 
p. 365 f., where other quotations are given from Thomas and the 
mediaeval theologians. Cp. the wholesome teaching of the " Imita 
tion " already widely read in Luther s day on the value of outward 
works compared with interior virtue and charity (Bk. II., cap. 1) : 
" Regnum Dei intra vos eat, dicit Dominus," are the words with which 
it begins. Bk. I., c. 19 : " Multo plus debet esse intus quam quod 
cernitur for is," and, again : " lustorum propositum in gratia Dei potius 
quam in propria sapientia pendet," etc. On the need of discretion see 
ib., 3, c. 7. 

1 " De non esu carm um ap. Carthus.," " Opp.," 2, pp. 723, 729. 
Denifle, ib., p. 370. 

2 Cp. Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 49. 


permission was given him, seeing that, as we know, Staupitz had, 
in consideration of his studies, dispensed the young monk from 
the performance of the humbler duties of the monastery. 

If what has been said holds good of the years spent at Erfurt, 
much less can there be any question of his having indulged in 
excessive rigour during his Wittenberg period. Here Luther 
began at an early date to inveigh against what he thought was 
excessive strictness on the part of his brother monks, against their 
observance and against all so-called holiness-by-works. In his 
sermons and writings of that time we have an echo of his vexation 
at the too great stress laid on works ; x but such a frame of mind, 
which was by no means of entirely new growth, surely betrays 
laxity rather than over-great zeal. The doctrine of the all- 
sufficiency of faith alone and of Christ s Grace was already 
coming to the front. 

Yet he continued even after he had set up his new doctrine 
and completely broken with the Church to recommend works 
of penance and mortification, declaring that they were necessary 
to withstand sinful concupiscence ; nor does he even forget, 
agreeably with the Catholic view, to insist on the need of 
" discretion." He also knows quite well what is the true purpose 
of works of penance in spite of all he was to say later in his 
subsequent caricature of the Catholic doctrine and practice. We 
hear him, for instance, saying in a sermon of 1519, when speaking 
of the fight to be waged against concupiscence : " For this 
purpose are watching, fasting, maceration of the body and 
similar works ; everything is directed towards this end, nay, the 
whole of Scripture but teaches us how this grievous malady may 
be alleviated and healed."* And, in his Sermon on Good Works 
(1520), he says: Works of penance "were instituted to damp 
and deaden our fleshly lusts and wantonness " ; yet it is not 
lawful for one to " be one s own murderer." 3 All this militates 
against his own tale, that, in the convent, discretion had never 
been preached, and that, thanks to the trashy holiness-by-works, 
he had been on the highroad to self-destruction. The Sermon 
in question was preached some five years before the end of those 
" twenty years " during which, to use his later words, he had been 
his own " murderer " through his excessive and misguided 

It may, however, be, that, for a short while, e.g. in the time of 
his first fervour as a novice, he may have failed now and then by 
excess of zeal in being moderate in his exercise of penance. This 
would also have been the time, when, tormented by scruples, he 
was ever in need of a confessor. To a man in such a state of 
unrest, penance, however, even when practised with discretion, 
may easily become a source of fresh confusion and error, and, 
when undertaken on blind impulse and used to excess, such a one 
tends to find excuses for himself for disregarding the prohibition 
both of the Rule and of his spiritual director. 

1 See above, vol. i., p. 80 ff. 

2 Weim. ed., 4, p. 626. Denifle, I 2 , p. 376 f. 

3 Ib., 6, p. 246 ; Erl. ed., 16, p. 180. Denifle, I 2 , p. 377 f. 


It is interesting to note the varying period during which 
Luther, according to his later sayings, was addicted to these 
excessive penances and to holiness-by-works. We already 
know that it was only gradually that he broke away from 
his calling, and that he had in reality long been estranged 
from it when he laid aside the Augustinian habit. 

According to one dictum of his, he had been a strict and right 
pious monk for fifteen years, i.e. from 1505-20, during which time 
he had never been able "to do enough " to make God gracious 
to him. 1 Again, elsewhere, he assures us that the period of misery 
during which he sought justification through his works had lasted 
" almost fifteen years." 2 On another occasion, however, he makes 
it twenty years (i.e. up to 1525) : " The twenty years I spent in 
the convent are lost and gone ; I entered the cloister for the 
good and salvation of my soul and for the health of my body, and 
I fondly believed . . . that it was God s Will that I should abide 
by the Rule." 3 What a contrast this alleged lengthy period of 
fifteen or even twenty years during which he kept the Rule 
presents to the reality must be sufficiently clear to anyone who 
remembers the dates of the events in his early history. To make 
matters worse, in one passage 4 he actually goes so far as apparently 
to make the period even longer during which he had " been a 
pious monk," and had almost brought about his death by fasting, 
thus bringing us down to 1526 or 1527 if the reading in the text 
be correct. It certainly makes a very curious impression on one 
who bears in mind the dates to see Luther, the excommunicate, 
after his furious attack on religious vows and the laws of the 
Church, and after his marriage, still depicted as an over-zealous 
and pious monk, whose fasting is even bringing his life into 
jeopardy. But if Luther was so careless about his dates does 
not this carelessness lead one to wonder whether the rest of the 
statements he makes in conjunction with them are one whit more 
trustworthy ? 

" For over thirty years," he says in a sermon of 1537, * I knew 
nothing but this confusion [between Law and Gospel] and was 
unable to believe that Christ was gracious to me, but rather 
sought to attain to justification before God by means of the 
merits of the Saints." 6 This statement is again as strange as his 
previous ones, always assuming that the account of the sermon 
in question, which Aurifaber bases on three separate reports, is 
reliable. In this passage he is speaking not of the years he spent 

1 Weim. ed., 37, p. 661. Sermon of Feb. 1, 1534. 

2 " Opp. lat. exeg.," 18, p. 226. Enarr. in ps. 45. Jan., 1532. 

3 Weim. ed., 33, p. 561 ; Erl. ed., 48, p. 306. In the Comment, on 
John vi.-viii., 27 Oct., 1531. 

4 Erl. ed., 49, p. 300 (1537) : "I myself must testify from my own 
experience : After having been a pious monk for over twenty years." 
This reading of the sermons reported and edited by Cruciger is em 
bodied in the text, whereas, in the notes, it is corrected to " fifteen." 

* Erl. ed., 46, p. 78, Sermon of 1537. 


in the convent but of the whole time during which he was a 
member of the Popish Church. If this be calculated from his 
birth it brings us down to about 1515, i.e. to about the date of 
his Commentary on Romans where the new doctrine of how to 
find a Gracious God is first mooted. But what then of the other 
account he gives of himself, according to which, for more than 
ten years subsequent to, 1515, his soul remained immersed in the 
bitter struggle after holiness-by-works ? If, on the other hand, 
we reckon the thirty years from the first awakening of the 
religious instinct in his boyhood and youth, i.e. from about 1490 
or 1495, we should come down to 1520 or 1525 and find ourselves 
face to face with the still more perplexing question as to how the 
darkness concerning the Law could have subsisted together with 
the light of his new discovery. 

Luther s versatile pen is fond of depicting the quiet, 
retiring monk of those days. As early as 1519 he wrote to 
Erasmus that it had always been his ardent wish " to live 
hidden away in some corner, ignored alike by the heavens 
and the sun, so conscious was he of his ignorance and 
inability to converse with learned men." 1 These words in 
their stricter sense cannot, however, be taken as applicable 
to the period when they were written but rather to the first 
years of his life as a monk. 

The historical features of his earlier life in the monastery 
deserve, however, to be examined more carefully in order 
better to understand the legend. 

2. The Reality. Luther s Falsification of History 

The legend of Luther s abiding misery during his life as a 
monk previous to his change of belief contradicts the monk s 
own utterances during that period. 

Monastic Days of Peace and Happiness. The Vows 
and their Breach 

The fact is, that, for all his sufferings and frequent 
temptations, Luther for a long while felt himself perfectly 
at ease in monasticism. In the fulness of his Catholic 
convictions he extolled the goodness of God, who, in His 
loving-kindness, had bestowed such spiritual blessings on 
him. In 1507 he wrote that he could never be thankful 
enough " for the goodness of God towards him, Who of His 

1 On March 28, 1519, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 490 : " Fraterculus in 
Christo . . . in angulo sepultus," etc. 


boundless mercy had raised him, an unworthy sinner, to the 
dignity of the priesthood." 1 The elderly friend to whom he 
thus opened his heart was the same Johannes Braun, Vicar 
of the Marienstift at Eisenach, to whom he again gave an 
account of his welfare in 1509. To him he then wrote : 
" God is God ; man is often, in fact nearly always, wrong in 
his judgments. God is our God, and will guide us sweetly 
through everlasting ages." 2 The inward joy which he found 
in the monastery gave him strength to bear his father s 
displeasure. He not only pointed out to him that it was 
" a peaceful and heavenly life," 3 but he even tried so to 
paint the happy life he led in his cell as to induce his friend 
and teacher Usingen to become an Augustinian too. 4 We 
may also recall his praise of his " preceptor " (i.e. novice 
master), whom he speaks of as a " dear old man " and " a 
true Christian under the damned frock." He repeats some 
of his beautiful, witty sayings and was always grateful to 
him for his having lent him a copy, made by his own hand, 
of a work by St. Athanasius. 5 The exhortations addressed 
to him by Staupitz when he was worried by doubts and 
fears, for instance his excellent allusion to the wounds of 
Christ, f] found an echo in Luther s soul, and, in spite of his 
trouble of mind, brought him back to the true ideal of 
asceticism. We also know how he praised Usingen, his 
friend at Erfurt, as the " best paraclete and comforter," 

1 To Job. Braun, April 22, 1507, "Briefwechsel," 1, p. 1 f ; "sola 
et liberalissiina sua misericordia . . . tanta divince bonitatis magnifi- 

2 March 17, 1509, " Briefwechsel," 1, p. 6. 

3 From a MS. sermon of Luther s of 1544 at Gotha. Scheel, 
" Dokumente," p. 20. 

4 To N. Paulus is due the credit of having drawn attention in 1893 
to the description given by Luther to Usingen. Hausrath in his article 
" Luthers Bekehrung " in 1896 (" N. Heidelb. Jahrb.,") also noted 
how happy Luther had at first been in the convent. Cp. his " Leben 
Luthers," 1, p. 22. 

6 Lauterbach, " Tagebuch," p. 197 (Khummer) : The good old 
man had taught him to commit perplexing matters of conscience 
" divines bonitati." Preface to Bugenhagen s edition of St. Athanasius 
" De Trinitate " : " Vir sane optimus et absque dubio sub damnato 
cucullo verus christianus." Cp. " Opp. lat. exeg.," 19, p. 100, on the 
preceptor s words (above, vol. i., p. 10) : " Fili quid fads, an nescis, 
quod ipse Dominus iussit nos sperare ? " Cp. Lauterbach, " Tage 
buch," p. 84 (Khummer) : Luther s reminiscence of the wise exhorta 
tion of his preceptor on conversations with women (" pauca et brevia 
loquatur "). Cp. " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 2, p. 1. 

See above, vol. i., p. 11. 


and wrote to a despondent monk, that his words were helpful 
to troubled souls, provided always that they laid aside all 
self-will. 1 

Hence, for a considerable part of his life in the monastery, 
Luther was not entirely deprived of consolations ; apart 
from the darker side of his life, on which his legend dwells 
too exclusively, there was also a brighter side, and this is 
true particularly of his earlier years. 

The effort to attain to perfection by the observance of poverty, 
chastity and obedience was at first so attractive to Luther, that, 
for a while, as we have already pointed out, he really allowed it 
to cost him something. Some years later, when he had already 
begun to paint in stronger hues his virtues as a monk, he said, 
perhaps not exaggerating : "It was no joke or child s play with 
me in Popery." His zealous observance was, however, confined 
to his first stay at Erfurt. A brother monk of his whom Flacius 
Illyricus chanced to meet in that town in 1543 also bore witness 
to Luther s piety there as a monk. The " old Papist," then still 
a faithful Augustinian, had told him, writes Flacius, how he had 
spent forty years in the Erfurt monastery where Luther had 
lived eight years, and that he could not but confess that Luther 
had led a holy life, had been most punctilious about the Rule and 
had studied diligently. To Flacius this was a new proof of the 
" mark of holiness " in the new Church. 2 

Nor are statements on the part of the young monk wanting 
which prove, in contradiction with the legend he invented later, 
that his theoretical grasp of the religious life was still correct even 
at a time when he had already ceased to pay any great attention 
to the Rule. 3 

Even as late as 1519, i.e. but two years before he wrote his 
book against monastic vows, he still saw in these vows a salutary 
institution. In a sermon he advised whoever desired " by much 
practice " to keep the grace of baptism and make ready for a 
happy death " to bind himself to chastity or join some religious 
Order," 4 the Evangelical Counsels still appeared to him, accord 
ing to statements he made in that same year, " a means for the 
easier keeping of the commandments." 5 

1 To George Leiffer, Augustinian at Erfurt, April 15, 1516, " Brief - 
wechsel," 1, p. 31. 

2 Flacius Illyr., " Clarissimae quaedam notse verse ac falsae religionis," 
Magdeburgi (1549), pages not numbered, end of cap. xv. : " Affirmabat 
is Martinum Lutherum apud ipsos sancte vixisse, exactissime regulam 
servasse et diligenter studuisse." Copy of this rare work in the Vienna 

3 On the passages in the Comm. on Rom. of 1515-16 in which he 
speaks well of the religious life, see above, vol. i., p. 270. 

* Weim. ed., 2, p. 736 ; Erl. ed., 21, p. 242. Denifle, I 2 , p. 39. 

5 Ib. t 2, p. 644 ; " Opp. lat. var.," 2, p. 500, and in his " Letter to 
the Minorites of Jiiterbogk," May 15, 1519, " Brief wechsel," 2. p. 40 : 
" Media quibua facilius implentur prcecepta." Cp. Denifle, I 2 , p. 36. 


It was only after this that he began to think of tampering with 
the celibacy of the priesthood, and that only in the hope of 
winning many helpers in his work of apostasy. A little later he 
attacked with equal success the sacred obligations freely assumed 
by the monks. Yet we find nothing about the legend in his 
writings and letters of this time, though it would have been of 
great service to him. Everything, in fact, followed a much 
simpler and more normal course than the legend would have us 
imagine : The spirit of the world and inordinate self-love, no less 
than his newly unearthed doctrine, were what led to the breaking 
of his vows. 

Many of his brother monks had already begun to give an 
example of marrying when, in the Wartburg (in Sep., 1521), while 
busy on his work against monastic vows he put to Melanchthon 
this curious question : " How is it with me ? Am I already free 
and no more a monk ? Do you imagine that you can foist a wife 
on me as I did on you ? Is this to be your revenge on me ? 
Do you want to play the Demea [the allusion is to Terence] and 
give me, Mitio, Sostrata to wife ? I shall, however, keep my eyes 
open and you will not succeed." 1 Melanchthon was, of course, 
neither a priest nor a monk. Luther, who was both, was even 
then undoubtedly breaking away at heart from his vows. This 
he did on the pretext untenable though it must have appeared 
even to him that his profession had been vitiated by being 
contrary to the Gospel, because his intention had been to " save 
his soul and find justification through his vows instead of through 
faith." " Such a vow," he says, " could not possibly be taken 
in the spirit of the Gospel, or, if it was, it was sheer delusion." 
Still, for the time being, he only sanctioned the marriage of other 
monks who were to be his future helpers ; as for himself he was 
loath to give the Papists " who were jawing " him the pleasure 
of his marriage. He also denied in a public sermon that it was 
his intention to marry, though he felt how hard it was not to 
" end in the flesh." All these are well-known statements into 
which we have already gone in detail, which militate against 
Luther s later legend of the holy monk, who tormented himself 
so grievously solely for the highest aims. 

When, nevertheless, yielding to the force of circumstances, he 
took as his wife a nun who had herself been eighteen years in the 
convent, his action and the double sacrilege it involved plunged 
him into new inward commotion. His statements at that time 
throw a strange light on the step he had taken. By dint of every 
effort he seeks to justify the humiliating step both to himself and 
to others. 

In his excitement he depicts himself as in the very jaws of 
death and Satan. Fear of the rebellious peasants now so wroth 
with him, and self-reproach on account of the marriage blamed 
by so many even among his friends, inflamed his mind to such 
a degree that his statements, now pessimistic, now defiant, now 
humorous, now reeking with pseudo-mysticism, furnish a picture 

1 Sep. 9, 1521, " Brief wechsel," 3, p. 226. 


of chaos. The six grounds he alleges for his marriage only prove 
that none of them was really esteemed by him sufficient ; for, 
that it was necessary for him to take pity on the forsaken nun, 
that the Will of God and of his own father was so plain, and that 
he was obliged to launch defiance at the devils, the priestlings 
and the peasants by his marriage, all this had in reality as little 
weight with him as his other pleas, such as, that the Catholics 
looked on married life as unevangelical, and that it was his duty 
to confirm the Evangel by his marriage even in the eyes of his 
Evangelical critics. 1 To many of his friends his marriage seemed 
at least to have the advantage of shutting the mouths of those 
who calumniated him. He himself, however, preferred to say, 
that he had had recourse to matrimony " to honour God and 
shame the devil." 2 

When once Luther had entered upon his new state of life all 
remaining scruples regarding his vows had necessarily to be 
driven away. 

As was his wont he tried to reassure himself by going to 
extremes. " The most successful combats with the devil," so he 
tells us, are waged " at night at Katey s side " ; her " embraces " 
help him to quell the foe within. 3 He declares even more strongly 
than before, that marriage is in fact a matter of downright 
necessity for man ; he fails to think of the thousands who cannot 
marry but whose honour is nevertheless untarnished ; he asserts 
that " whoever will not marry must needs be a fornicator or 
adulterer," and that only by a " great miracle of God " is it 
possible for a man here and there to remain chaste outside the 
wedded state ; more and more he insists, as he had already done 
even before, that " nothing rings more hatefully in his ear than 
the words monk and nun." 4 He seizes greedily on every tale 
that redounds to the discredit of the monasteries, even on the 
silly story of the devils dressed as spectral monks who had 
crossed the Rhine at Spires in order to thwart him at the Diet. 

In all this we can but discern a morbid reaction against 
the disquieting memory of his former state of life, not, as the 
legend asserts, peace of mind and assurance of having won 
a " Gracious God," thanks to his change of religion. The 
reaction was throughout attended by remorse of conscience. 

These struggles of soul in order to find a Gracious God, 
which lasted, as he himself says (above, vol. v., pp. 334 f. ; 

1 Above, vol. ii., p. 181 ff. 

2 " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 3, p. 183 : " in gloriam Dei et con/usionem 

3 Cordatus, " Tagebuch," p. 450 : " etiam in complexus veni 
coniugis," etc. Cp. " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 2, p. 299. See above, 
vol. v., p. 354 ; vol. iii., p. 175. 

4 To Nich. Gerbel of Strasburg, Nov. 1, 1521, " Brief wechsel," 3, 
p. 241 : " ut nihil iam auribus meis sonei odiosius monialis, monaclii, 
sacerdoiis nomine et paradisum arbitrer coniugium vel summa inopia 
laborans." Thus the monk and priest, four years before his marriage. 

VI. P 


350 f.), even down to his later years, constitute a striking 
refutation from his own lips, of the legend of the wonderful 
change which came over him in the monastery. 

On the other hand, the story of his long-drawn devotion 
to the monastic practice of good works is no less at variance 
with the facts. On the contrary, no sooner did Luther begin 
his official career as a monk at Wittenberg, than he showed 
signs of his aversion to works ; the trend of his teaching 
was never in favour of strictness and penance, which, as he 
declared, could only fill the heart with pride. (Above, vol. i., 
pp. 67 ff., 117 ff.) At a later date, however, he sought to base 
this teaching on his own " inner experiences " and with 
these the legend supplied him (above, vol. iv., p. 404, n. 2). 

Some Doubtful Virtues 

It is worth while to examine here rather more narrowly 
than was possible when giving the history of his youth, 
the zeal for virtue and the self-sacrificing industry for which, 
according to the legend, the youthful monk was so con 
spicuous. What in our first volume was omitted for the 
sake of brevity may here find a place in order to throw a 
clearer light on his development. Two traits are of especial 
importance : first humility as the crown of all virtue, on 
account of the piety Luther ascribes to himself, and, 
secondly, the exact character of his restless, feverish 

Luther s humility presents some rather remarkable 
features. In the documents we still possess of his we indeed 
find terms of self -depreciation of the most extravagant kind. 
But his humility and forced self-annihilation contrast 
strangely with his intense belief in his own spiritual powers 
and the way in which he exalts himself above all authorities, 
even the highest. 

This comes out most strongly at the time when, as a young 
professor at Wittenberg, Luther first dipped into the writings of 
the mystics. The latter, so one would have thought, ought rather 
to have led him to a deeper appreciation and realisation of the 
life of perfection and humility. 

He extols the books of certain mystics as a remedy for all the 
maladies of the soul and as the well-spring of all knowledge. To 
the Provost of Leitzkau, who had asked for his prayers, he 
expressed his humility in the language of the mystics : "I confess 


to you that daily my life draws nigh to hell (Ps. Ixxxvii. 4) 
because daily I become more wicked and wretched." 1 At the 
same time he exhorts another friend in words already quoted, 
taken from the obscure and suspicious " Theologia Deutsch," 
" to taste and see how bitter is everything that is ourselves " in 
comparison with the possession of Christ. 2 "I am not worthy 
that anyone should remember me," so he writes to the same, 
" and I am most thankful to those who think worst of me." 3 

Yet mystical effusions are intermingled with charges against 
the opponents of his new philosophy and theology which are by 
no means remarkable for humility. " For nothing do my fingers 
itch so much," he wrote about this time, 4 " as to tear off the mask 
from that clown Aristotle." The words here uttered by the 
monk, as yet scarcely more than a pupil himself, refer to a scholar 
to whom even the greatest have ever looked up, and, who, up till 
then, had worthily represented at the Universities the wisdom of 
the ancients. The young man declares, that " he would willingly 
call him a devil, did he not know that he had had a body." Luther 
also has a low opinion of all the Universities of his day : " They 
condemn and burn the good books," he exclaims, " while fabricat 
ing and framing bad ones." 6 

Self-confidence had been kindled in the monk s breast by a 
conviction of future greatness. He speaks several times of this 
inkling he had whilst yet a secular student at the Erfurt Uni 
versity; when ailing from some illness of which we have no 
detailed account, the father of one of his friends cheered him with 
certain words which sank deeply into his memory : " My dear 
Bachelor, don t lose heart, you will live to be a great man yet." 
In 1532 Luther related to his pupil Veit Dietrich this utterance 
which he still treasured in his memory. 6 How strong an im 
pression such lightly spoken words could make on his too 
susceptible mind is evident from a letter of 1530 where he speaks 

1 To George Mascov, Provost of the Premonstratensian house at 
Leitzkau, end of 1516, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 76. At the close of the 
letter, of which only fragments have been preserved, we read : " Quam 
maxime rogo ut pro me Dominum ores ; confiteor enim tibi, quod vita mea 
in dies appropinquet inferno, quia quotidie peior fio et miserior," which 
must, of course, be understood of his moral, not his physical, condition. 
The " drawing nigh to hell " is an echo of Ps. Ixxxvii., which was such 
a favourite of his, where we read : " repleta eat malia anima mea et vita 
mea inferno appropinquavit " (v. 3), and : " In me transierunt irce tuce, 
et terrores tui conturbaverunt me " (v. 17). 

2 Above, vol. i., p. 88. 

3 To Spalatin, Dec. 14, 1516, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 73 f., where he 
begins by humbly confessing his unworthiness to receive any attention 
from the Elector (" talis tantusque princeps "), at whose Court Spalatin 
held a post. 

* To Joh. Lang, Feb. 8, 1517, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 86. " Quid 
enim non credant, qui Aristoteli crediderunt, vera ease, quce ipse calumnio- 
sissimus calumniator aliis affiingit et imponit tarn absurda, ut asinus et 
lapis non possint tacere ad ilia ? " (ib., p. 85). 

5 Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 44, from Dietrich s MSS. 

To Hier. Weller, July (?), 1530, " Brief wechsel," 8, p. 160. 


of his vivid recollection of another man, who, when Luther wa3 
consoling him on the death of his son, had said to him : " Martin, 
you may be sure that some day you will be a great man." Since, 
on the same occasion, he goes on to refer to the remark made by 
Staupitz, viz. that he was called to do great things, and declares 
that this prediction had been verified, it becomes even clearer that 
this idea had taken root and thriven in his mind even from early 
years. 1 But how does all this harmonise with the humility of 
the true religious, and with the pious self-forgetfulness of the 
mystic ? There can be no doubt that it is more in accordance 
with the quarrelsomeness and exclusiveness, the hot temper and 
lack of consideration for others to which the testimonies already 
recorded have repeatedly borne witness. (Above, vol. i., passim.) 

There is a document in existence, on which so far but 
little attention has been bestowed, which is characteristic of 
his language at one time. Its tone of exaggeration makes it 
worthy to rank side by side with the mystical passage quoted 
above, in which Luther professes to have himself experienced 
the pangs of hell which were the earthly lot of chosen souls. 2 
Owing to its psychological value this witness to his humility 
must not be passed over. 

Luther had received from Christopher Scheurl of Nuremberg, 
a learned lawyer and humanist, a letter dated Jan. 2, 1517, in 
which this warm partisan and admirer of the Augustinians, who 
was also a personal friend of Staupitz after a few words in praise of 
his virtue and learning, of which Staupitz had told him, ex 
pressed the wish to enter into friendly correspondence with him. 3 
The greater part of Scheurl s letter is devoted to praising Staupitz, 
rather than Luther. Yet the young man was utterly dumb 
founded even by the meagre praise the letter contained. His 
answer to it was in an extravagant vein, the writer seemingly 
striving to express his overwhelming sense of humility in the face 
of such all-too-great praise. 4 

The letter of one so learned and yet so condescending, so 
Luther begins, while greatly rejoicing him had distressed him not 

1 " Videbis," Staupitz had said, according to him, "quod ad res 
magnas gerendas te ministro (Deus) utetur. Atque ita accidit," Luther 
goes on. " Nam ego magnus (licet enim hoc mihi de me iure prcedicare) 
factus sum doctor," Such utterances, he continues, have in them some 
thing of the " oraculum et divinatio." Then follows the statement quoted 
above concerning the other prophecy of his future greatness : " huius 
dicti scepissime memini," and again he declares such words contain 
" aliquid divinationis et oraculi.^ z Above, p. 102. 

3 Reprinted in Luther s " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 79 : " De tua prce- 
stantia, bonitate, eruditione creber sermo incidit." After having spoken 
of Luther s " Celebris fama," Scheurl expresses the wish " to become 
his friend." The words are simply those in common use among the 

4 Jan. 27, 1517, " Briefwechsel," 1, p. 82 8. 


a little. He rejoiced at his eulogies of Staupitz, in whom he 
simply extolled Christ. ** But how could you sadden me more 
than by seeking my friendship and decking me out in such empty 
titles of honour ? I cannot allow you to become my friend, for 
my friendship would bring you, not honour but rather harm, if so 
be that the proverb is true: Friends hold all in common. If 
what is mine becomes yours then you will receive only sin, 
unwisdom and shame, for these alone can I call mine ; but such 
things surely do not merit the titles you give them." Scheurl, 
indeed, would say, so he goes on in the same pathetic style, that 
it was only Christ he admired in him ; but Christ cannot dwell 
together with sin and folly ; hence he must be mindful of his 
own honour and not fall so low ( degeneres ) as to become the 
friend of Luther. Even the Father- Vicar Staupitz praises him 
(Luther) too much. He made him afraid and put him in peril 
by persisting in saying : "I bless Christ in you and cannot but 
believe Him present with you now." Such a belief was, however, 
hard, and the more eulogies and friends, the greater the danger 
in which the soul stood (then follow three superfluous quotations 
from Scripture). The greater the favour bestowed by men the 
less does God bestow His. " For God wills to be either the only 
friend or else no friend at all. To make matters worse, if a man 
humbles himself and seeks to fly praise and favour, then praise 
and favour always come, to our peril and confusion. Oh, far 
more wholesome," he cries, " are hatred and disgrace than all 
praise and love." The danger of praise he elucidates by a com 
parison with the cunning of the harlot mentioned in Proverbs vii. 
He is writing all this to Scheurl, not by any means to express 
contempt for his good-will but out of real anxiety for his own 
soul. Scheurl was only doing what every pious Christian must 
do who does not despise others but only himself ; and this, too, 
he himself would also do. 

And, as though he had not yet said enough of his love of 
humility, the writer makes a fresh start in order to explain and 
prove what he has said. Not on account of learning, ability and 
piety does a true Christian honour his fellow-men ; such a thing 
had better be left to the heathen and to the poets of to-day ; the 
true Christian loved the helpless, the poor, the foolish, the sinful 
and the wretched. This he proves first from Ps. xli., then from 
the teaching of Christ and from His words : " For that which is 
high to men is an abomination before God " (Luke xvi. 15). " Do 
not make of me such an abomination," so he goes on, " do not 
plunge me into such misery if you would be my friend. But, 
from so doing you will be furthest if you forbear from praising me 
either before me or before others. If, however, you are of opinion 
that Christ is to be extolled in me, then use His Name and not 
mine. Why should the cause of Christ be besmirched by my 
name and robbed of its own name ? To everything should be 
given its right name ; are we then to praise what is Christ s 
without using His Name ? Behold," so he breaks off at last 
very aptly, " here you have your friend and his flood of words ; 


have patience friendly reader " words which may apply to the 
modern reader of this effusion no less than to its first addressee. 
It cannot well be gainsaid that something strange lay in this kind 
of humility. It would be difficult to find an exact parallel to such 
language in the epistles of the humanists of that day, and still 
less in the correspondence of truly pious souls. What may, 
however, help us to form our opinion is the fact that, in the letters 
written immediately after the above, we again find the young 
professor condemning wholesale everything that did not quite 
agree with his own way of thinking. 

The passion, precipitancy and exaggeration which inspired 
him during his monkish days is the other characteristic which 
here calls for consideration. His fiery and unbridled zeal 
was of such a character as to constitute a very questionable 
virtue in a monk. 

We may recall what has already been said of the youthful 
Luther s passionate and unmeasured abuse, even in public, of the 
" Little Saints " and " detractors " in his Order, for instance at 
the Chapter of the Order held at Gotha in 1515. Bitter exaggera 
tions are met with even in his first lectures. In the controversy 
with the Observantines he goes so far as to make the bold asser 
tion, that it was just the good works of his zealous brother monks 
that were sinful, though they in their blindness refused to believe 
it. 1 In his Commentary on the Psalms in 1513-15 he even goes 
so far as to denounce as " rebellion and disobedience " their 
vindication of strict observance in the Order. 2 His imagination 
makes him fancy that they are guided by a light kindled specially 
for them by " the devil." 3 Such is his ardour when thundering 
against the abuses in the Order that he forgets to make the need 
ful distinctions, and actually, in the presence of the young 
Augustinians who were his pupils, attacks the very foundations 
of their Mendicant Order. Yet elsewhere, in the narrowest spirit 
of party prejudice, he inveighs against worthy scholars who 
happened to belong to other Orders, for instance, against Wimp- 
feling, on whom he heaps angry invective. 4 The slightest pro 
vocation was enough to rouse his ire. 

Soon his passion began to vent itself on the Church outside. 
In his lectures on the Psalms he laments that Christianity was 
hardly to be found anywhere, such were the abuses ; he can but 
weep over the evil ; all pious men were, according to him, full of 
sorrow that the Incarnation and Passion of Christ had come to 
be so completely forgotten. We know how the young religious, 
from the abyss of his inexperience, declared in the most general 
terms, as though he had been familiar with all classes and all 

1 Weim. ed., 1, p. 30 ; " Opp. lat. var.," 1, p. 57 : " Nolunt audire, 
quod iustitice eorum peccata sint. . . . Gratiam maxime impugnant, qui 
earn iactant." 

8 " Incurrunt inobedientiam et rebellionem." See vol. i., p. 69. 

3 " Ucec est lux angeli Satkance " (ib.). * Ib., p. 53. 


lands, that the desecration of what was most sacred in the Church 
had gone so far that they had sunk below even the Turk ; " owing 
to the unchastity, pomp and pride of her priests, the Church was 
suffering in her property, in the administration of her sacraments 
and of the Word of God, in her judicial authority and finally in 
her government," etc., " the Sanctuary was, so to speak, being 
hewn down with axes," churchmen doing spiritually what the 
Turk was doing both spiritually and materially ; in vain was the 
Word of God preached " seeing that every entrance was closed 
to it." 

Holy men, of real zeal, had always been able to discern the 
good side by side with the bad. But the youthful Luther sees on 
every side, and everywhere nothing but false teaching (" scatet 
totus orbis," etc.), nay, a very " deluge of filthy doctrines." 1 To 
be made a bishop is to him tantamount to branding oneself a 
" Sodomite " ; so full of vice is the episcopate that those wearers 
of the mitre were the best who had no sin on their conscience 
beyond avarice. 2 As for the men of learning, they rank far below 
Tauler, and, thanks to their narrowness, had made the age " one 
of iron, nay, of clay." 3 When setting faith and grace against the 
alleged heathenism of the scholars he goes so far as to say, that 
his man is he " who outside of grace knows nothing." 4 As early 
as 1515 he thinks himself qualified to attack the authorities and 
the highest circles because " his teaching-office lent him apostolic 
power to say and to reveal what was being done amiss." 6 

Why, we may, however, ask, did not the reformer of the Church 
begin with himself, seeing that, in the lectures on the Psalms just 
mentioned, he already laments the coldness of his own religious 
life ? 6 Even then he felt temptations pressing upon him ; already 
in consequence of his manifold and distracting labours he had 
lapsed into a state in which prayer became distasteful to him, 
and of which he writes to an intimate friend in 1523 : "In body 
I am fairly well but I am so much taken up with outward business 
that the spirit is almost extinguished and rarely takes thought 
for itself." 7 These words and other earlier admissions (above, 
vol. i., p. 275 ff.) throw a strange light on the legend according to 
which he had wrestled in prayer by day and by night. 

Even in his devotion to his studies and in his manner of 
writing on learned subjects his natural extravagance stands 

1 Weim. ed., 1, p, 12 ; " Opp. lat. var.," I, p. 33. 

2 To Spalatin, June 8, 1516, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 41 : " prcesulari 
id est pergrcecari sodomitari, romanari." 

3 To Spalatin, in the spring, 1517, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 91 : 
" eruditio sceculi nostri ferrea, immo terrea, sive sit Grcecitatis sive 
Latinitatis sive Hebrceitatis." 

4 To Lang, March 1, 1517, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 88. 

5 See above, vol. i., p. 228. 6 /&., p. 70. 

7 To Nich. Hausmann at Zwickau, " Brief wechsel," p. 144 : 
" Corpore satis bene valeo, sed tot distrahor externis actibus, ut spiritus 
prope extinguatur raroque sui curam habeat. Ora pro me, ne carne 
consummer." Cp. Gal. iii. 3 : " Sic stulti estis, ut quum spirilu coeperitis, 
nunc carne consummemini" 


revealed. His love for study was all passion ; his mode of thought 
and expression was simply grotesque. It was the young monk s 
passion for learning which led him on the occasion of his visit to 
Rome to petition the Pope to be allowed for a term of several 
years to absent himself from home and devote himself in the garb 
of a secular priest to his studies at the Universities. At Witten 
berg we find him in the refectory pen in hand in the silent 
watches of the night when all the other monks had gone to rest, 
and, in his excited state, he fancies he hears the devil making an 
uproar. Though, according to his admission of Oct. 26, 1516, he 
was so busy and overwhelmed with literary work, as " rarely to 
have time to recite the Hours or to say Mass," 1 yet he still had 
time enough to inveigh against the " sophists of all the Uni 
versities " as he had, even then, begun to term the professors of 
his day. He professed his readiness, were it necessary, to find time 
to go to Erfurt in order to defend in a public disputation there the 
Theses set up at Wittenberg in his name by his pupil Franz 
Giinther ; the Erfurt Augustinians were not to denounce these 
propositions as " paradoxical, or actually cacodoxical," " for 
they are merely orthodox." " I wait with eagerness and interest 
to see what they will put forward against these our paradoxes." 2 
In April, 1517, when Carlstadt caused some commotion by 
publishing his erroneous views on nature and grace in 152 theses, 
Luther called them in one of his letters the paradoxes of an 
Augustine, excelling the doctrine in vogue as much as Christ 
excels Cicero ; there were some who declared these propositions 
to be paradoxical rather than orthodox, but this was " shame 
less insolence " on the part of men who had studied and under 
stood neither Augustine nor Paul ; "to those who understand, 
however, the theses ring both pleasantly and beautifully, indeed 
to me they seem to have an excellent sound." 3 

His restless style and love of emphasis is characteristic of his 
own inner restlessness and excitement. He himself was quite 
aware of the source of this disquiet, at least so far as it was the 
result of a moral failing. In 1516 he lays his finger deliberately 
on his besetting fault when he admits to a friend, that the " root 
of all our unrest is nowhere else to be found than in our belief in 
our own wisdom " ; "I have been taught by my own experience ! 
Oh, with how much misery has this evil eye [belief in my own 
wisdom] plagued me even to this very day ! " 4 

1 To Lang, Oct. 26, 1516, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 67 : " raro mihi 
integrum tempus est," etc. ; above, vol. i., p. 275. 

2 To Lang, Sep. 4, 1517, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 106. Cp. vol. i., 
p. 313. 

3 To Chr. Scheurl, May 6, 1517, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 97 : " Sunt 
paradoxa niodestis et qui non ea cognoverint, sed eudoxa et calodoxa 
scientibus, mihi vero aristodoxa. Benedictus Deus, qui rursum iubet de 
tenebris splendescere lumen." 

4 To George Leiffer, Augustinian at Erfurt, April 15, 1516, " Brief - 
wechsel," 1, p. 31 : " sola prudentia sensus nostri causa et radix uni 
verses inquietudinis nostrce." 


And yet he takes for one of his guiding principles the curious 
idea that the opposition of so many confirmed the truth of what 
he said. His work on the Penitential Psalms, so he wrote to his 
friend Lang on March 1, 1517, would "then please him best if 
it displeased all." 1 And, two years later, he said to Erasmus, 
when speaking of the system he followed in this respect : "I am 
wont to see in what is displeasing to many, the gifts of a Gracious 
God as against those of an Angry God " ; hence, so he assures 
him, the hostility under which Erasmus himself was suffering, 
was, for him, a proof of his real excellence." 2 

His burning enthusiasm at the time when he thought he had 
discovered the sense of the passage : " The just man lives by 
faith," has already been described elsewhere. 3 This and other 
incidents just touched upon recall those morbid sides of his 
character referred to in the previous chapter. 

As we might expect, during the first years of his great 
public struggle his restlessness was even more noticeable 
than before. The predominance of the imagination has 
hardly ever been so fatally displayed by any other man, 
though, of course, it is not every man whose life is thrown 
amid times so stirring. " Because," so he wrote in 1541, 
recalling his audacity in publishing the Indulgence-Theses 
and the fame it brought him, " all the Bishops and Doctors 
kept silence [concerning the abuse of indulgences] and no 
one was willing to bell the cat. . . . Luther was vaunted as 
a doctor, and as the only man who was ready to interfere. 
Which fame was not at all to my taste." 4 This latter asser 
tion he is fond of making to others, but his letters of that 
time show how greatly the charm of notoriety contributed 
to unbridle his stormy energy. It was his opponents 
defiance which first opened the flood-gates of his passionate 
eloquence. At the very outset he warns people that contra 
diction will only make his spirit more furious and lead him 
to have recourse to even stronger measures ; elsewhere he 
has it : " The more they rage, the further I shall go ! " 5 

We may recall his reference to the " gorgeous uproar," 
and the passages where he assures his friends : "I am 

1 " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 88 : " si nulli placerent, mihi optime 
placer ent" 

2 March 28, 1519, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 489. 

3 Vol. i., p. 391 : " furebam ita sceva el perturbata conscience," etc. 
* Erl. ed., 26 2 , p. 71. 

5 To Sylvius Egranus (Joh. Wildenauer), March 24, 1518, " Brief - 
wechsel," 1, p. 173 : " Ego quo magis illi furunt, eo amplius procedo ; 
relinquo prior a, ut in illis latrent, sequor posteriora, ut et ilia la/trent." 


carried away and know not by what spirit," 1 and " God 
carries me away, I am not master of myself." 2 

In the light of his pathological fervour the contradictions 
in which he involves himself become more intelligible, for 
instance, what he wrote to Pope Leo X in his letter of May, 
1518, 3 which so glaringly contrasted with his other words and 
deeds. His unrest and love of exaggeration caused him to 
overlook this and the many other contradictions both with 
himself and with what he had previously written. 

The picture of the monk which we have been compelled to 
draw differs widely from the legendary one of the pious 
young man shut up in the cloister, who, according to 
Luther s account at a later date, led a fanatical life of 
penance and, because he saw Popish piety to be all too 
inadequate, " sought to find a Gracious God." 

Luther s Alterations of the Facts 

It was not altogether arbitrarily that Luther painted the 
picture of the monk forced by his trouble of mind to forsake 
Popery. Rather he followed, possibly to some extent un 
consciously, the lines of actual history, though altering them 
to suit his purpose. 

He retained intact not a few memories of his youth, 
which, under the stress of his bitterness and violence, 
and with the help of a lively imagination unfettered 
by any regard for the laws of truth, it was no difficult 
task to transform. Among these memories belong those 
of his time of fervour during his Noviciate and early 
days as a priest. They it was which evidently formed 
the groundwork of his later statements that he had 
been throughout an eminently pious monk. Then again, 
among the remarkable traits which made their appearance 
somewhat later, the two elements just described have a place 
in his legend, viz. his extravagant self-conscious humility 
and his fiery zeal. In his later controversies he is disposed 
to represent this strange sort of humility as real humility 

1 Cp. Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 512. 

8 To Staupitz, Feb. 20, 1519, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 430 : " Deus 
rapit, pellit, nedum ducit me; non sum coynpos mei, volo esse quietus et 
rapior in medios tumultus." 

9 Above, vol. ii., p. 17. 


and as a sign of genuine piety. The pious, humble monk 
hidden in a corner had all unwittingly grown into a great 
prophet of the truth. In the same way the ardour of those 
years which he never afterwards forgot, was transformed in 
his fancy into a fanatical hungering and thirsting after 
Popish holiness-by-works, in discipline and fasting, watch 
ing, cold and prayer. 

In addition to these there were memories of the transition 
period of religious scruples, of temptations to doubts about 
predestination, of his passing paroxysms of terror, gloom 
and inherited timidity. These elements must be considered 

Scrupulosity, with the doubts and nervousness it brings 
in its train, probably only troubled him for a short time 
during the first period of his life in the cloister. The admo 
nitions of his novice-master, given above (p. 206), may refer 
to some such passing condition through which the young 
man went, and which indeed is by no means uncommon in 
the spiritual life. The profound impression made by these 
first inward experiences seems to have remained with him 
down to his old age ; indeed it is the rule that the struggles 
of one s younger days leave the deepest impression on both 
heart and memory. His quondam scruples and groundless 
fear of sin, eked out by his ideas of the virtues of a religious, 
probably served as the background for the picture of the 
young monk " sunk " in Popish holiness-by-works and yet 
so profoundly troubled at heart. 

But all this would not suffice to explain the legend of his 
mental unrest, of his sense of being forsaken by God, of his 
howling, etc. 

What promoted this portion of the legend was the 
recollection of those persistent temptations to despair which 
arose from his ideas on predestination during the time of his 
mystical aberrations. 

The dreadful sense of being predestined by God to hell 
had for many years stirred the poor monk s soul to its lowest 
depths, even long before he had thought out his new 
doctrine. It is no matter for surprise, if, later, carried away 
by his polemics, he made the utmost use in his legend of his 
former states of fear the better to depict the utter misery of 
the monk bent on securing salvation by the practice of good 
works. The doctrine of faith alone which he had discovered 


and the new Evangelical freedom were, of course, supposed 
to have delivered him from all trouble of mind, and thus it 
was immaterial to him later to what causes his fears and 
sadness were assigned. 

Yet his supposed new theological discoveries became for 
him, according to the testimony of the Commentary on 
Romans, in many respects a new source of fear and terror. 
The doctrine of the Divine imputation or acceptation did not 
sink into his mind without from its very nature causing far- 
reaching and abiding fears. His then anxieties, which, as a 
matter of fact, were in striking contrast with his later 
assertion of his sudden discovery of a Gracious God, together 
with the mystical aberrations in which he sought in vain for 
consolation, doubtless furnished another element for the 
legend of the terrors he had endured throughout his life as a 

We need only refer to the passage in the Commentary where he 
declares : Our so-called good works are not good, but God merely 
reckons (" reputat ") them as good. "Whoever thinks thus is 
ever in fear ( semper pavidus ), and is ever awaiting God s 
imputation ; hence he cannot be proud and contentious like the 
proud self-righteous, who trust in their good works." 1 

What is curious, however, is that, here and elsewhere in the 
Commentary, the so-called self-righteous, both in the cloister 
and the world, appear to be quite " confident " and devoid of 
fear ; they at least fancy they may enjoy peace ; hence, as 
depicted in the Commentary, they are certainly not the howling 
and anxious spirits of whom the later legend speaks. On the 
contrary it is Luther alone who is sunk in sadness, and whose 
melancholy pessimism presents a strange contrast to all the 
rest. His mysticism also veils a deep abyss. 

Almost on the same page the pessimistic mystic speaks of 
that resignation to hell which has a place in his new system of 
theology. " Because we have sin within us we must flee happiness 
and take on what is repugnant, and that, not merely in words and 
hypocritically ; we must resign ourselves to it with full consent, 
must desire to be lost and damned. What a man does to him 
whom he hates, that we must do to ourselves. Whoever hates, 
wishes his foe to be undone, killed and damned, not merely 
seemingly but in reality. When we thus, with all our heart, 
destroy and persecute ourselves, when we give ourselves over 
to hell for the sake of God and His Justice, then indeed we 
have alread}^ satisfied His Justice and He will deliver us." 2 It 
can hardly be considered normal that a monk should wish to live 
among brethren, who rejoiced in the promises of Christ and in 

1 Lectures on Romans, ed. J. Ficker, 1908, Scholia, p. 221. 
3 /&., p. 220. 


the Church s means of grace the life of a lonely mystic sunk in 
the depths of an abyss, where " a man does not strive after 
heaven but is perfectly ready never to be saved, but rather to be 
damned, and where, after having been reconciled by grace, a man 
fears, not God s punishments, but simply to offend Him." 1 

Luther s recollections of the mental ailments he went 
through as a monk also undoubtedly had their effect on the 
legend. We know that Luther never rightly understood the 
nature of these ailments and that he regarded his fits of 
terror, his nervousness and his gloom as anything but what 
they really were. It would appear that, in his old age, he 
simply lumped all his sad experiences together as typical of 
the sort of poison which Popery and Monkery, owing to their 
false doctrines, offered to their adepts. Nothing seemed to 
him to sho\v better from what horrors he had snatched man 
kind. Whether involuntary self-deception played a part 
here, or whether, by dint of constant repetition, he came to 
believe in the truth of his tale, who can now r venture to say ? 
In any case his spirit of bitterness led him to make of his own 
sufferings a sort of spectre of terror common to all, who, like 
himself, had raved that they were zealously serving God 
whether in the monastery or in Popery at large. Even 
" great Saints " had, according to him, lived amidst the 
" devil s factions and errors, under Rules and in monasteries 
and institutions," but had finally " cut themselves loose and 
been saved by faith in Jesus Christ." 2 

He completely shuts his eyes to the fact that both his 
fears concerning predestination and his morbid states of 
terror accompanied by fainting fits recurred in his case even 
in later life, and, that, after his apostasy he had in addition to 
suffer from remorse of conscience on account of his doings 
against the Church. Nor does he seem to see that he 
himself betrays the falsity of what he says of the general 
depression to which all monks were subject when he relates 
above, that he alone had gone about in the monastery 
labouring under such oppression and that no one had under 
stood him or been able to console him (above, p. 113) ; hence, 
according to this, his brother monks cannot have suffered 
from the terrors he afterwards attributed to them. 

1 Ib. 

2 Weim. ed., 26, p. 504 ; Erl. ed., 30, p. 366. " Vom Abendmal 
Bekentnis," 1528. 


Th,e Monkish Nightmare 

The strange " terrors " under which he was labouring 
when he first knocked at the gate of the Augustinian convent 
at Erfurt were, according to Melanchthoii s definite assur 
ance already quoted, closely bound up with his habitual 
states of fear. They were extraordinary states of mental 
perturbation (" terror es ") and can only be explained when 
looked at in the light of his other mental troubles. 1 Of the 
incidents that impelled him to enter the convent 2 Luther 
himself says in a passage which has also been quoted above, 
that (on the occasion of his first Mass) he had tried to 
reassure his father Hans by pointing out that he had been 
called " by terrors from heaven " (" de coelo terrores ") ; to 
which his father had harshly replied : " Oh, that it may not 
have been a delusion and a diabolical vision " (" illusio et 
prcestigium "). 3 The happenings immediately previous to 
his entering the monastery are of a rather mysterious 
character. The inmates of the Erfurt convent declared at 
that time in consequence of what they had gathered from 
Luther, that he, like " another Paul, had been miraculously 
converted by Christ." 4 Oldecop, who began his studies at 
Wittenberg in 1514, speaks in his Chronicle of " strange 
fears and spectres " on account of which Luther had 
taken the habit. 5 Still more remarkable is the report based 
on the account of Luther s intimate friend Jonas, and dating 
from 1538. He says : When Luther, as a student, was 
returning to Erfurt after having been to Gotha to buy some 
books " there came a dreadful apparition from heaven 
which he then interpreted as signifying that he was to 
become a monk." 6 If these statements were correct it would 

1 Melanchthon in his " Elogium " on Luther, " Corp. ref.," 6, 
p. 158 : " Vitse Reformatorum," ed. Neander, p. 5. See above, p. 100. 

2 To supplement what we said in vol. i., p. 4, we may give a passage 
from Rorer s notes of the Table-Talk (ed. Kroker, in "Archiv f. RG.," 5, 
1908, p. 346) : " Cum in monasterium intrabam et relinquebam omnia 
desperans de me ipso, postulavi iterum biblia." Ib., p. 369 f. " Causa 
ingrediendi monasterii fuit, quia perterrefactus tonitru, cum despatiaretur 
ante civitatem Erphordice, votum vovit Hannce et fracto propemodum 
pede [? through being thrown down by the stroke of lightning ?] he 
entered the cloister and bound himself by vows." 

8 Vol. i., p. 16. * Dungersheim, " Dadelung," etc., Bl. 14. 

5 " Chronik," etc., ed. Euling, 1891, p. 30. 

Account published by Tschakert in " Theol. Stud, und Krit.," 
1897, p. 578. The passage may possibly have been influenced by 


appear as though we have here already an instance of 
hallucination worthy of being classed with the " sights and 
visions " elsewhere mentioned. Even his earliest monastic 
days would assume a suspiciously pathological character 
if, even then, he was convinced of having been the recipient 
of heavenly messages. It must, however, remain doubtful 
whether Jonas s report means exactly what it seems to 
mean and whether his sources are to be relied upon. 

The possibility of his having been the victim of hallucina 
tion at such an early date also raises the question whether 
his later abnormal states can be explained by heredity or 
his upbringing. 

By their " harsh treatment," so Luther says on one 
occasion, his parents had " driven him into the monastery " ; 
here we have an entirely new version of the motives of his 
choice of the religious life ; he adds that, though they 
meant well by him, yet he had known nothing but faint 
heartedness and despondency. 1 Poverty still further 
darkened his early youth. It is quite possible that the 
young monk may have suffered for some considerable time 
from feelings of timidity and depression as a result of his 
education and mode of life. The natural timidity which was 
apparent during a part of his youth may also have con 
tributed its quota to the rise of the legend of the monk who 
was ever sad. But all this does not explain as well as an 
hereditary malady would the terrors or seeming hallu 
cinations. Unfortunately the question of heredity is still 
quite obscure, though the highly irritable temper of his 
father referred to above (p. 182) may have some bearing 
on it. Luther, however, says very little about his parents 
and even less of his manner of bidding good-bye to the world. 

The statements he makes, whether in jest or in earnest, con 
cerning his vow to enter a religious Order, differ widely. 

He declares he made the vow to God in honour of St. Anne, 
but that God had " taken it in the Hebrew meaning," Anne 
signifying grace, and had understood that Luther wished to 
become a monk * under grace and not under the Law," in fact 
not a monk at all. 2 Very likely it is no jest, however, when he 
adds that, " he had soon regretted his vow, the more so since 

Luther s statement above concerning his father s words " illusio et 
prcestigium." Cp. below, p. 224, n. 6. 

1 Mathesius/" Tischreden," p. 408 (in 1537). 

2 " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 3, p. 187, related by Luther to his friends 
on the feast-day of St. Anne, July 16 [? 26], 1539. 


many sought to dissuade him from entering the convent " ; he 
had, nevertheless, persisted, in spite of the objections of his 
father and, after that, he had had no further thought of quitting 
the convent, " until God deemed the time had come " (to thrust 
him out of it). 1 

On another occasion he assures us he had entered the convent 
only " because he despaired of himself." 8 And again : " God let 
me become a monk," " though I entered forcibly and contrary 
to my father s wishes " ; 3 for I had " to learn to know the Pope s 
trickery." 4 As a rule, however, he leaves God out of the matter. 
He had taken the vow only "under compulsion," so he says in 
self-defence ; he had not become a monk " gladly and willingly " ; 
he did not then know that a father had to be obeyed, or that vows 
rested only on " the commandments of men, on hypocrisy and 
superstition," 5 but, during his life in the cloister, the suspicion of 
his father, who had now been reconciled with him, about the 
possibility of its having all been a diabolical delusion had sunk 
deeply into his mind ; in his father s words he had perforce to 
recognise the Voice of God. 

Again, the legend makes out the monk, in the time of his 
first fervour, to have looked more like a corpse than a man ; 
yet, so far as we can judge, it was only after he had begun his 
public struggle, i.e. subsequent to 1517, that he began to 
show signs of physical exhaustion and emaciation, and this, 
too, was only owing to the way in which he went to work. 
On the other hand, on March 17, 1509, i.e. nearly four years 
after his entry into the religious life, when about to quit 
Erfurt, he wrote, that, " as to himself, by God s grace, all 
was going well." The expression he uses seems to imply 
that, not merely his spiritual, but also his bodily, state 
was satisfactory. 7 

In his legend Luther speaks repeatedly of certain morbid 
states from which he had suffered and which he duly uses to 
lash the Popish conception of holiness. They are too closely 

1 Ib., under date, July 16 (1539), the anniversary of his entering the 

2 See above, vol. i., p. 4. 

3 " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 3, p. 182. * 16., 3, p. 185. 

5 Weim. ed., 8, p. 573 f. ; " Opp. lat. var.," 6, p. 239, in the dedica 
tion to his father of " De Votis monasticis " (" Brief wechsel," 3, p. 249). 

6 Ib., he refers to the same remark of his father s in a letter to 
Melanchthon of Sep. 9, 1521, " Brief wechsel," 3, p. 225 : " Ulinam 
non esset sathance prcestigium. . . . Videtur mihi per os eius Deus 
velut a longe me allocutus, sed tarde, tamen satis." 

7 To Job. Braun at Eisenach, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 6 : " Quod si 
atatum meum nosse desideras, bene habeo Dei gratia, nisi quod violentum 
est studium." 


bound up with other facts in his mental life to be set aside 
as simple inventions, though it must also be added that they 
contain an element of uncertainty. 

In the case of people who have been brought up as 
Christians but who suffer from certain nervous disorders, 
particularly when their temperament is of the melancholy 
variety, a notable aversion for sacred objects may occasion 
ally be observed. " Many such patients cannot bear the 
sight of a cross, cannot listen to prayers, stop their ears at 
the ringing of the Angelus, cannot mention the word 
4 sacrament, but use some circumlocution instead." "Among 
perfectly normal people we do not meet with this sort of 
thing, still it is nothing extraordinary." 1 

Now, oddly enough," we find Luther, in 1532, telling the 
people quite seriously in his sermons on Matt, v. vii., that, 
as a novice, he had not been able to endure the sight of the 
crucifix. " When I saw a picture or statue of Christ hanging 
on the Cross, etc., I was so affrighted that I averted my 
eyes." 2 And, again, in the same sermons : " When I looked 
at Him on the Cross He seemed to me like a flash of 
lightning." He also adds that he " had often been affrighted 
at the name of Jesus." 3 " The Last Day," he says in a 
sermon of 1534, he could not bear to hear spoken of, and 
" my hair stood on end when I thought of it." 4 These state 
ments are doubtless exaggerations, but Luther has others 
even stronger : He would " rather have heard the devil 
spoken of than Christ " ; he would rather have seen " the 
devil than the Crucified " ; " rather have heard of the 
devils in hell than of the Last Day." It may be queried 
whether the above were simply inventions designed to 
vilify the monastic life and the faith in which he had grown 
up. Nevertheless, whoever calls to mind the " terrors " 
Luther experienced at his first Mass and in the procession 
with Staupitz, whoever keeps before him the part played by 
Luther s " fears " even at a later date, 5 will certainly not 
think it beyond the bounds of possibility that, at times, he 

1 B. Heyne, " Uber Besessenheitswahn bei geistigen Erkrankungs- 
zustanden," Paderborn, 1904, p. 126. 

2 Erl. ed., 44, p. 127. 

3 76., 45, p. 150. See above, p. 197. 

4 /&., Weim. ed., 

36, p. 553 f. ; Erl. ed., 51, p. 140, Comment, on 
1 Cor. xv. 

6 See above, p. 99 ff. 

VI. Q 


should have shuddered at the sight of the cross or at the 
mention of Christ or of the Last Judgment. 

To all this, his bodily condition may have contributed, 
yet, in his legend, Luther makes of these doubtless morbid 
states of his the inevitable result of the holiness-by-works 
practised in the convent and taught by Catholic doctrine. 
It was because they had known Christ only as the Judge, 
Who must be placated by works, that he had so dreaded the 
Crucifix and the very mention of the Judgment. He says 
that he could not but tremble at the sight of the Crucifix, 
because, like the rest of the Papists, he had been taught to 
think that " I must go on performing good works until I 
have thereby made Christ my friend and gracious toward 
me." 1 For this reason alone he had " so often shrunk back 
affrighted at the name of Jesus " and at the " Cross " as at 
a " flash of lightning," because he, like all the rest, had lost 
his faith ; "I had fallen away from the faith and^had no 
other thought than that I had angered God Whom I must 
once more propitiate by my works." " But praise and 
thanks be to God that now we have His Word once more, 
which leads us to Christ and depicts Him as our Righteous 
ness " ; our heart need no longer " tremble and quake." 2 

After assuring us that he was often unable to gaze upon 
the Cross, he also at once proceeds to make capital out of 
this against the olden Church : " For," so he continues, 
41 my mind was poisoned by this Popish doctrine," a 
doctrine according to which " Christ, our Healer, had been 
turned into a devil." 3 

Nor does he hesitate to make out that the sight of the 
Saviour was likewise terrifying to all the zealous and 
earnest " saints-by-works " in the religious life and Popery 
generally. 4 In another passage he speaks of the dreadful 
emotion all felt at the mention of the coming Judgment 
and the Last Day : " And so we were all sunk in the filth 
of our own holiness and fancied that, by our life and works, 
we could pacify the Divine Judgment " ; formerly they used 

1 Erl. ed., 45, p. 156. 

2 Note, ib. 3 Ib., 44, p. 127. 

* G. Buchwald, " Luthers ungedruckte Predigten 1528-1546," vol. 
iii., 1885, p. 50 : In Popery " horrible fears " had been caused by the 
doctrine of Christ as Judge. " luventua non intelligit ; videat ne 
amittat hanc lucem [of his Evangel]. Si scivissemus non ivissemus in 
tcenobia. Quando Christum inspexi, vidi diabolum." 


to start " if anyone spoke of death or of the life to come " ; 
but, since the light of the Evangel has risen, it is otherwise. 

It is true that the way in which Luther here allows his 
prejudice to exploit these terrifying experiences may raise 
doubts as to whether they had ever actually existed even in 
his own case, or whether he did not rather invent them with 
the object of afterwards ascribing them to all. At the same 
time it is easier to believe in their existence than to credit 
him with having deliberately evolved them out of his own 

The utmost caution must indeed be exercised in accept 
ing his assertions on this subject. We cannot sufficiently 
express our amazement at the credulity with which Luther s 
rhetorical statements about his life in the convent have often 
been accepted, for instance even by Kostlin. The fact is, that 
the ground on which Luther s later account rests, the elements 
that he introduces into his transformation of the facts, and 
above all the bitter and aggressive spirit which directs and 
permeates everything, have not been adequately recognised 
and thus the mythological nature of his fiction has remained 
undetected. Otherwise it would surely have been im 
possible to assert, that, just as Paul had been through the 
mill of the Law, so Luther also had been through that of the 
religious life, in order, by virtue of his experience, to discover 
the supreme truth. 

Various traits in the picture he drew, which, owing to its 
difficulties, has puzzled many people, may, as we have seen, 
be explained by his misapprehension or misinterpretation of 
the phenomena of his own morbid, melancholy mind. Other 
moral factors have, however, also to be taken into account. 

As already pointed out, his depression of mind, due 
primarily to physical causes, became so pronounced owing 
to his refusal to submit to proper direction. 

His dissatisfaction was increased by his growing im 
patience with the religious life, by remorse of conscience 
arising from his tepidity and worldliness, and by his growing 
antipathy to his vocation. 

It may be said, that, had the convent been wisely 
governed, Luther would never have been admitted to 
profession but have been quietly dismissed while yet a 


novice. Both for his superiors and for himself this would 
have been the better course. A morbid temperament such 
as his, whatever may have been its cause, was not suited 
for the religious life, even apart from the obstacles in 
Luther s character. The monotony and the penances 
of the monastic life, the self-discipline and obedience ; also 
the annoyances with which he had to put up from his 
brother monks, whose habits and upbringing were not his, 
must necessarily have aggravated his case, particularly as 
he refused to submit to guidance. His superiors should have 
foreseen that this brother would be a source of endless 
difficulties. Instead of this, Staupitz, the vicar, clung to his 
favourite. He even gave him to understand that he would 
make of him a great scholar and an ornament of the Order. 
Had he remained in the world, in a different and freer sphere 
of action, Luther might possibly have succeeded in shaking 
off his ailments and the resultant depression. But, in the 
convent, particularly as he went his own way, he became 
the victim of ideas and imaginations which promoted the 
growth of his doctrine and helped to pave the way for his 
apostasy. Nevertheless, his morbid states could not annul 
the vows he had taken in the Order, hence his leaving and 
his breach of the vows cannot be excused on the ground of 
his illness, though the latter may help to explain his step. 

From all the above it is plain how unwarrantable is the 
assumption that to set aside Luther s legend is to shut one s 
eyes to the severe inward struggles through which he went 
previous to making his great decision. 

There can be no doubt that, previous to his unhappy 
change of religion, the monk had to wage a hard fight with 
himself. He was striving against his conscience, and, by 
overcoming it, he consciously and deliberately incurred the 
guilt of his apostasy. " A frightful struggle of soul," 1 may, 
and indeed must, be assumed, though a very different one 
from that usually pictured by Protestants and by Luther 
himself. It would indeed be " stupid " (to use the words of 
a Protestant biographer of Luther) to seek to " obliterate 
from history " the deep-down inward struggle which, 
" maybe, lasted longer than we think." It is, however, 

1 W. Kohler, " Ein Wort zu Denifles Luther," p. 28. The mental 
struggle had not been denied, either by Denifle, or in my article in the 
Beilage of the " Koln. Volksztng.," 1903, No. 44. 


gratifying to find that the same author admits that, as a 
monk in the Erfurt priory, Luther " found some inward 
contentment," in other words, that the legend is false in this 
particular ; he also grants that, at least " in this or that 
statement," Luther, in his later accounts, has been guilty of 
" exaggeration " ; that his " development " did not proceed 
quite on the lines he fancied later, at least that the " change 
was not quite so sudden," and, finally, that " physical over 
strain " had something to do with his struggles. 1 

3. The Legend receives its last touch ; how it was used 

It is only after 1530 that we find Luther s legend of his 
monkish life fully developed. Before this we see only the 
first hints of the tale. 

It cannot be argued that, till then, he had been silent on 
his inward experiences as a monk, or that the MSS. of the 
Table-Talk only commence subsequent to 1530. That, even 
before this, he had frequently spoken of his earlier spiritual 
experiences is evident from the passages already quoted, 
and might be proved by many others ; moreover the 
absence of any recorded Table-Talk is a detail, since the 
latter is far from being our sole source in the present 

We are justified in assuming that the idea matured in 
1530, during his stay at the Castle of Coburg where he had 
to wage so severe a struggle with himself. Amid the trials he 
endured during his days of retirement at the Wartburg he 
had found time to pen his violent attack on monastic vows ; 
so also, it was in the quiet of the Coburg, amidst the ghostly 
conflicts and delusions, that he wove the caricature of his 
own monkish life into the web of his history. At the very 
time when Luther was at the Coburg the burning question 
of German monasticism was being debated at the Diet of 
Augsburg ; the Catholic Estates hoped that recognition 
might again be won for it from the Protestants, or that it 
might at least secure toleration in the districts where 
allegiance was divided. It was also at the Coburg that 
Luther penned many of the furious passages of his " Warning 
to the Clergy forgathered at Augsburg." 

1 Kohler, ib., pp. 27-29. Cp. Kohler, " Katholizismus und 
Reformation," p. 69. 


He there says : " For the monks I know not how to plead. 
For I am well aware you would rather they were all of them 
given over to the devil, please God, whether they take wives 
or not." 1 In these words he erroneously takes for granted 
that all ecclesiastics shared his own hatred for the monks. 
He boasts in this writing that he " had destroyed the monks 
by his teaching " ; 2 he trusts that " the Bishops will not 
allow such bugs and lice to be stuck again on their fur 
cappas." 3 The reason why his doctrine had destroyed the 
monks was, because it had revealed how they were merely 
" intent upon works." " For what else could come of it ? 
If a conscience is intent on its works and builds on them, 
then it is stablished on loose sand which is ever slipping and 
sliding away ; it must ever be seeking for works, for one 
and then for another and ever more and more, until at last 
even the dead arc clothed in monks cowls the better to 
reach heaven." 4 The last words are a caricature, a mis 
representation of a pious custom by which no one ever 
dreamt infallibly to win heaven. The " loose sand " is, 
however, a favourite expression with him when speaking of 
his teaching on works. It is the same teaching that he wants 
to bring before the eyes of all by means of his fiction. How, 
at that time, his thoughts were harking back to his former 
life in the convent is plain from a letter of consolation he 
then wrote to his " tempted " pupil Weller. He tells him 
that he himself had also had his sadnesses and temptations, 
but that what he had suffered as a monk had in the end 
proved a schooling for his present high calling. 5 

Had he really been the butt of such " temptations " as 
the legend depicts and contrived so successfully to vanquish 
them by his doctrine on justification, then w r e might expect 
to find some trace of this in his first writings subsequent to 
his change of outlook. Now, in the Commentary on Romans 
we have a vivid document bearing on his change of opinions, 
yet, full as it is of information about the author, we may 
seek in vain for the legend. On the contrary it breathes a 
high esteem for the religious state. 6 In the " Resolutions " 
to the Indulgence-Theses likewise, Luther speaks of the 

1 Weim. ed., 30, 2, p. 330 ; Erl. ed., 24 2 , p. 391. 

2 lb., p. 280 = 365. 3 Ib., p. 279f. = 364. 
* Ib., p. 290=370. 

Late in June, 1530, " Brief wechsel," 8, p. 159 f. 
6 See above, vol. i., p. 269 f. 


phases through which he had passed and of the mystical 
sufferings he had endured. 1 Yet here again the features 
of the legend are wanting. Is it not somewhat remarkable 
that an author usually so candid and talkative as Luther 
should have kept silence about those experiences of which, 
just at that time, i.e. at the beginning of his public struggle, 
he must have been so full ? 

Nor is the legend to be found in Luther s writings dating 
from between 1520 and 1530. All the passages quoted above 
date from a later period. 

Had the tale it tells been based on history he would surely 
have made capital out of it during this long spell of contro 
versy with the monks and Papists. Thus, in his violent 
" De votis monasticis " of 1521, he as yet has nothing to say 
of his supposed so pious life, of his excessive penance, mis 
guided holiness-by-works, and the despair he endured in the 
convent, though, in the Preface, he alludes to his own life as 
a monk. Nor, again, in his " De servo arbitrio " of 1525, 
does he as yet put forward the actual legend. It is true that 
here, when explaining his doctrine of Predestination, he 
refers to the fears from which as a monk he had suffered 
regarding his election, fear which arose from his doubts as to 
the fate decreed for him by God from all eternity. As it is also 
here that he for the first time airs his theory that his 
doctrine of absolute predestination and his dogma of 
justification were alone able to give peace, 2 this would seem 
to have been the place to give an account of his own life 
in the monastery and its attendant circumstances. But the 
legend was not as yet ready. We have merely a hint of 
what is to come : The Catholic doctrine that heaven may be 
won by works spells the end of all peace ; " this is proved 
by the experience of all the holy-by-works, and this, to my 
cost, I also learnt by the experience of many years." 3 About 
his heroic works of penance, his vigils, fastings, extra 
ordinary piety, and the sudden and gratifying change, he 
has not a word to say. 

Heralds of the legend are certain statements met with 
in a sermon of 1528 where he describes himself as having 
been a " very pious monk," who was, however, wanting in 
constancy and like a " shaking reed," not being firmly rooted 

1 Above, p. 101 f. 

2 Weim. ed., 18, p. 783 ; " Opp. lat. var.," 7, p. 362. 5 Ib. 


in Christ j 1 again at the end of his " Vom Abendmal 
Bekentnis " he declares his " greatest sins " were his having 
" been such a holy monk and having plagued God for more 
than fifteen years with so many masses." 2 In the latter 
writing he at least admits that " many great saints had lived 
in the monasteries " ; 3 he even thinks that " it would indeed 
be a fine thing if the monasteries and foundations were 
retained, to the end that young folk might there be taught 
God s Word, the Scriptures and how to live a Christian 
life," in short as educational establishments for both boys 
and girls. " But, to seek in them the road to salvation, 
that is the devil s own doctrine and belief." 4 

Finally, in the sermons on John vi.-viii. which he began 
in 1530 after his return from the Coburg to Wittenberg and 
continued till 1532 we have the legend more or less complete : 
He had been a monk and had kept the nightly watches 
(i.e. had chanted the usual matins), had " fasted and prayed, 
scourged his body and tormented it " ; he had been one of 
the pious and earnest monks who took their life seriously, 
" who, like me, were at some pains and examined and 
plagued themselves, and wanted to attain to what Christ is 
in order to be saved. But what did they gain thereby ? " 5 
At the same time he begins to enlarge in the most incredible 
way on the beliefs and habits of the Papists with regard to 
their own merits and the merits of Christ. All had held their 
tongues concerning the Saviour, so he says, and he empha 
sises his statement by adding : "I myself, I should have 
blushed to say that Christ was the Saviour." Thus in a 
sermon of Dec., 1530. 6 

In the period that follows, what he says of his piety, and 
especially of his works of penance, grows more and more emphatic. 
The argument at the back of his mind is this : "If even so 
mortified, penitent, and holy a monk as he could find no peace in 
Popery but only black despair, must not then all admit that he 
was in the right in protesting against both the Church and 
her vows ? 

So strictly had he kept his Rule, that, if ever monk got to 
heaven, it should have been he ; he had plagued himself to death 

1 Weim. ed., 28, p. 48, June 10. 

2 Weim. ed., 26, p. 508 ; Erl. ed., 30, p. 372. 

3 Ib., p. 504 = 366. * Ib. 

5 Weim. ed., 33, p. 574 f. ; Erl. ed., 48, p. 317. 

6 Weim. ed., 32, p. 241. Cp. the similar passage quoted above, 
p. 197, from Schlaginhaufen. 


with watching, prayer, study and other labour. 1 This was the 
time when he " sought to be a holy monk and to be reckoned 
among the most pious." 2 " If ever a monk was earnest then it 
was I. ... I was at the utmost pains to keep the ordinances " 
(of the Fathers). 

He " had been one of the best " 3 and was " wholly given over " 
to "fasting, watching and prayer " ; 4 "I nearly killed myself 
with fasting, watching and cold . . . so mad and foolish was I." 6 
By fasting, sleeplessness, hard work and coarse clothing " my 
body was dreadfully broken and worn out." 6 

In short, he had " sunk deeper into the quagmire [of mortifica 
tion, obedience to the Church and monastic piety] than many an 
other"; so much so that "it had been hard and bitter" to 
him to cut himself adrift from the ordinances of the Pope ; 
" God knows how hard I found it ! " 7 

As he himself gradually came to believe in his extra 
ordinary " holiness-by-works " it may be that his thoughts 
dwelt too exclusively to his earlier days as a monk, i.e. on 
those passed at Erfurt, during which he certainly was more 
zealous than in later years, though never such a fanatic as 
he afterwards makes out. He may also have compared his 
life as a monk with the small efforts after virtue he made 
subsequent to his public apostasy, and the contrast may 
have led him to make too much of his piety in the convent. 
The contrast, indeed, often troubled him, and we find him 
seeking for grounds to excuse his later lukewarmness in 
prayer, so different from his earlier fervour. 8 This also helps 
us to explain the line of thought followed in the legend. 

The true character of the legend becomes clearer when Luther 
begins to exploit it in his polemics. He depicts himself as a sort of 
"caricature of the monastic saint," 9 and then complains: This 
damnable life could not but keep me ever in a state of fear, and 
yet the Popish Church recommends and sanctions it ; the more 
zealous I grew the further I withdrew from Christ nay, brought 
even my baptism into danger ! He had never been able to " find 
comfort in it," nay, he had been compelled to " lose " it, to 
" lend a hand in denying it." " This is the upshot and reward of 
their doctrine of works." 10 He even goes so far as to say that the 

1 Erl. ed., 31, p. 273 in " Kleine Anwort auff H. Georgen nehestee 
Buch." Given more in detail above, p. 195. 

2 Weim. ed., 36, p. 554 ; Erl. ed., 51, p. 146. 

3 Erl. ed., 20 2 , 2, p. 420. 

4 Comm. in Gal., Weim. ed., 40, 1, p. 135 ; Irmischer, 1, p. 109. 

5 Cp. Erl. ed. 31, p. 273. 

6 "Opp. lat. exeg." 11, p. 123. 7 Erl. ed., 14 2 , p. 343. 
8 See above, vol. iii., p. 206 ; vol. iv., p. 213 f. 

Denifle, I 2 , p. 392. 10 Erl. ed., 19 2 , p. 151 f. 


Papists " truly and indeed made nought of the baptism " of 
Christ, for which reason " their doctrine is as baneful as that of 
the Anabaptists " ; they " make of us Jews or Turks, as though 
we had never been baptised." 

Luther s persistent and obtrusive exploitation of his legend in 
his controversies must not be lost to sight. 

In his new-found zeal he not only as a rule passes too confi 
dently from the I (I did so and so) to the we, or they, the better to 
clap the blame attaching to himself on the monks in general, the 
Pope and all the Papists, and then to conclude with the praise of 
the new Evangel, but and this reveals even more plainly the 
origin of the invention, he also follows the reverse order, speak 
ing first of the New Evangel, then of the senseless martyrdom 
endured by all the monks with their works, and, lastly, of his 
own personal experiences, as though they had been necessarily 
implied in his earlier premisses. 

/ cruelly disciplined my body, he says, and goes on : " They 
plagued and tormented themselves " ; for all that, " did they 
find Christ ? Christ says : You shall die in your sins. To this 
they came." " The Pope, too, labours and seeks," to find what 
Christ is ; " but never will he find it." All this leads to the 
conclusion : " But now God has given His Grace, so that every 
town and thorp has the Gospel." 1 

Above we heard him speak of the " quagmire " in which he was 
sunk ; in the same connection he remarks : " We wore out the 
body with fasting," etc., " and some even went crazy through it." 
Then follows the inference : " And, at last, we lost our very souls." 
For, to our " great and notable injury," we were made to feel " in 
our anxious and troubled conscience " what it means " to try to 
become pious by works and so to redeem ourselves from sin." 
" We would gladly have had a cheerful conscience," but " it was 
all of no use, and we naturally became more and more down 
hearted about sin and death, so that no folk more unhappy are 
to be found on earth than the priestlings, monks and nuns who 
are wrapped up in their works." * The more they do, the worse 
things fare with them." But, since my doctrine has come into the 
world, people have unlearnt their faintheartedness : " We run 
to the Man Who is called Christ and say : Yes indeed, we must 
take it from the Man without any merit whatsoever [on our part]. 
. . . He gives me freely that for which formerly I had to pay a 
high price. He gives me, without any works or merit, that for 
which formerly I had to stake body, strength and health." 2 

His supposed experiences as a monk are even made to do 
service in his interpretation of Holy Scripture. In order to 
understand the Scriptures, so he argues, deep inward experi 
ence is called for. This he maintained when withstanding 
the fanatics and their system of illuminism. Here he 

1 Weira. ed., 33, p. 574 f. ; Erl. ed., 48, p. 317 f. 
a Ib., 14 2 , p. 342 ff. 


actually carries back the beginning of his own experience 
to his convent days. 

Already in the convent, so he declares, he had been com 
pelled to bow to the idol of scepticism, because he, and all the 
rest, knew nothing of any real faith in the Gospel. Far less 
had he learned to pray Evangelically. 

44 That Christ was a mystery, as St. Paul says, I looked upon 
formerly, when I had to submit to being called a Doctor of Holy 
Scripture, as a lying statement which I very well understood. 
But now that, praise be to God, I have once more become a poor 
student of Holy Writ, and that, the longer I live, the less I know 
of it, I begin to see the marvel of such sayings, and find by experi 
ence that they must necessarily remain mysteries. . . . Our 
experience must bear witness to this, how amply, fully and 
clearly we now possess this same Word of Christ." 1 But, by the 
Pope, it was " gruesomely murdered." 3 

Of the Saints of their Order the monks made their God, and of 
their miracles they made their Gospel. " For know you this, that 
I, Dr. Martin Luther, who am now living and write this, w r as also 
one of the crowd who were forced to believe and worship such 
things [lying fables]. And had anyone been so bold as to doubt 
one whit of it, or to raise a finger against it, he would have gone 
to the stake or to some other evil end." 3 That the latter w r as an 
exaggeration and the merest invention Luther was perfectly 
well aware. 

He also speaks untruthfully of the manner of prayer in the 
convent. That he himself, when once he had fallen away from 
his vocation, no longer prayed in a right spirit is very likely. He, 
however, says : "I and all the others had not the right con 
ception " (of prayer) ; it was no true " raising of the heart to 
God because we fled from God ( fugiebamus Deum ). . . . We 
only prayed conditionally and hypothetically, not * cate 
gorically. This he said in 1537, admitting, however, with 
regard to his own then family prayers, that they " were not so 
fervent, because he was always forced to protest," i.e. to pour 
out his anger against the Papists ; but, " in the congregation as 
a whole, it comes from the heart and also serves its purpose." 4 

His wilful misrepresentation of the truth becomes more pro 
nounced, when, in the exploitation of the legend, he seeks to 
moderate the monks practices of penance and mortification 
with the help of Terence and Aristotle. 

In his Commentary on Genesis he complains : " The religious 
life of the monk is so crooked that no exception ( epikia ) is 
allowed, nor any moderation. Hence it is all wickedness and 
unrighteousness. No hee.d is paid to the object of the Law, or to 

1 Erl. ed., 63, p. 369 f., 1542. l Ib., p. 372. 

3 Ib., 63, p. 374. Preface to his " Barfuser Eulenspiegel und Alco 
ran," 1542. 

* Matheeius, " Tischreden," p. 423. 


charity. . . . And yet what Terence says is still true : summum 
ius esse summam iniuriam. God does not wish the body to be 
put to death, but that it be preserved for each one s calling and 
for the service of our neighbour." 1 " Learn, therefore, that peace 
and charity must govern and direct all virtues and laws, as 
Aristotle points out in the 5th book of his Ethics." 2 

Now, as a matter of fact, the Rule of the Hermits of St. 
Augustine, with which he was thoroughly conversant, enjoined 
consideration for the health of the individual. 3 Brother Jordan 
of Saxony, whose book was regarded as a standard work in the 
Order, insists on care being taken of the body and only permits 
penitential exercises " in moderation, with the superiors approval 
and without scandal to the brethren."* 

His falsehoods are coupled with the outbursts of fury 
against Catholicism into which he was so prone to fall when 
attempting to describe the religious life he had forsaken. 

Because we endured so much " pain and such martyrdom of 
heart and conscience " no one must now seek to excuse the 
Papacy ; on the contrary " we cannot blame and scold the Pope 
enough " ; "that he should have so wasted the beautiful years of 
my youth, and martyred and plagued my conscience is really 
too bad." Popery is the " scarlet whore of Rome, the arch- whore, 
the French whore, chock-full of blasphemies " ; "we must thank 
our Lord God that He has revealed and discovered to us the Pope 
as the dragon with his head, belly and tail." 5 The monks are a 
" devilish crew," and monkery a " hellish cauldron " ; by day 
and by night Christ is to all monks a " hangman and devil " ; 
even the best and most learned, and St. Thomas of Aquin himself, 
were all driven to despair and died of the ghostly poison. 6 The 
last words occur in the work he wrote in self-defence against Duke 
George of Saxony (1533), who had twitted him with having 
committed perjury in breaking his religious vows. 

The thought of his own infidelity and his abuse of the graces of 
the religious life was at times quite enough in itself to fill him 
with fury. At any rate his whole picture of his earlier years is 
steeped in polemics and the spirit of hate. 

1 Weim. ed. 42, p. 504 ; "Opp. lat. exeg.," 3, p. 119. 

2 /&., p. 505-200. 

3 Cp. Denifle, I 2 , p. 368 and above, p. 202. 4 Ib. 
6 Erl. ed., 45, p. 150 f. Ib., 31, p. 279. 



1. From Religious Licence to Religious Constraint 
Freedom as the Watchword 

IN the early days of his public protest against the olden 
Church, when Luther proclaimed the " universal priesthood 
of all Christians," there could as yet be no question of any 
compulsion in matters of doctrine, seeing that he expressly 
conceded to the Christian congregations the right and power 
to weigh all doctrines and "to set up or send adrift their 
teachers and soul-herds." Every Christian, so he wrote, 
who saw that a true teacher was lacking, was taught and 
consecrated by God as a priest and was also bound, " under 
pain of the loss of his soul and of incurring the Divine 
displeasure, to teach the Word of God." 1 It is not neces 
sary after all we have already said 2 to point out how im 
possible it is to square such far-reaching concessions to 
freedom with any idea of a positive body of doctrine. The 
concessions may, however, have appealed to him particularly 
because he himself was disposed to claim the utmost 
freedom in respect of the dogmas of Catholicism. In those 
days he was delighted to hear himself extolled as the 
champion of freedom and the right of private judgment. The 
interests of his party made such extravagant toleration 
commendable, for any attempt at compulsion in doctrinal 
matters, particularly at the beginning, would have lost him 
many friends. He was also anxious that it should be said 
of the new Church that it had spread of its own accord and 
only owing to the power of the Word. 

1 Cp. Weim. ed., 11, pp. 408-416 ; Erl. ed., 22, pp. 141-151. 
8 Above, vol. v., p. 432 ff., and vol. iii., p. 9 ff. 



In the sermon he preached at Erfurt in 1522 in support of the 
change of religion in that town he had declared, that every 
Christian, thanks to his kingly priesthood, was an "image of 
Christ " and a " cleric," and " able to judge of all things " ; to 
his decision, based on the Word of Christ, " the Pope and all his 
followers were subject " ; "he judges all things and is judged of 


Even two years later, in words proclaiming universal freedom 
of belief, he had dissuaded the Saxon Princes from taking violent 
measures against the fanatics : " Let the spirits fall upon each 
other and clash ! " What cannot stand must in any case succumb 
in the fight, and only those who fight rightly are assured of the 
crown. " Just let them preach as they please ! " 2 

In 1525 he told Carlstadt and the Sacramentarians that each 
one was free to follow his own conscience and to question the 
Sacrament or refuse to receive it. 3 This agrees with his state 
ment of 1621 : " No one must be forced into the faith, but the 
Gospel must be set before everyone and all be admonished to 
believe, yet left free to obey or not. All the Sacraments must be 
free to everyone." 4 

Luther registered a formal protest against the ancient 
right of proceeding against heretics by means of temporal 
penalties, particularly that of death. " To burn heretics 
is against the will of the Holy Ghost," so he declared in 
1518 and again in 1520. 5 In 1520 he said : " Heretics must 
be overcome by argument, not by fire. * 6 

Most of what he was to say subsequently on the question 
of public toleration refers to the bearing of the authorities, 
especially towards the Anabaptists and Zwinglians. That 
he himself, however, and every follower of his Evangel, were 
bound to regard all opinions which diverged from his own 
as godless heresies and brand them as such, that he had 
never doubted from the moment he had discovered his new 
Evangel. In accordance with this he proceeds to demand 
more and more strongly of the " heretics " within the pale 
unconditional acceptance of all the articles of faith. 7 

1 Cp. vol. ii., p. 346. 

3 Weim. ed., 15, p. 218 f. ; Erl. ed., 53, p. 265, 1524. 

3 Above, vol. hi., p. 392 f. 4 76., p. 10. 

5 Weim. ed., 1, p. 624 ; " Opp. lat. var.," 2, p. 288. In the Resolu 
tions, 1518. Weim. ed., 7, pp. 139, 439 ; Erl. ed., 24 2 , p. 139. " Opp. 
lat. var.," 5, 221. In the " Assertio omnium articulorum." Cp. 
proposition 33 condemned by Leo X, 1520, in the Bull " Exsurge 
Domine." N. Paulus, in " Hist.-pol. Bl.," 140, 1907, p. 357 ff., and 
" Protestantismus und Toleranz im 1C Jahrb.," 1911, p. 26 f. 

Weim. ed., 7, p. 139 ; " Opp. lat. var.," 5, p. 221. 

7 Cp. above, vol. iii., p. 424 : " Hence there is no alternative, you 
must either believe everything or nothing." and vol. v., p. 398, n. 3. 


What were the authorities to do faced by teachings so 
divergent ? In 1523, in a writing indeed intended mainly 
for the Catholic rulers and opponents of his doctrine, Luther 
is decidedly quite against any interference on the part of the 
authorities : "To resist heretics, that is the bishops duty 
to whom this office is committed, not the princes ; for 
heresy can never be overborne by a strong hand. . . . Here 
God s Word must fight." 1 In April, 1525, in the midst of 
the Peasant War, in his " Ermanunge," he enunciates, not 
without some thought of his personal ends, this general 
principle " Yes, the authorities must not oppose what each 
one chooses to believe and teach, whether it be Gospel or lie ; 
it is enough that they hinder the preaching of feud and 
lawlessness." 2 

Boehmer justly points out, that Luther s standpoint 
and doctrine as a whole, essentially spelt not only " un 
fettered freedom of teaching, but also entire freedom of 

Meanwhile, however, Luther had already repeatedly urged 
those in power, especially his own sovereign, to do their 
supposed duty, and back up the new Evangel by their 
authority and by forbidding Catholic worship, the Mass and 
Catholic sermons. 

In what follows we shall deal with Luther s behaviour 
towards the Catholics, as distinguished from his attitude 
towards sectarians within his own camp. 

Intolerance Towards Catholics in Theory and Practice 

We should be making a serious mistake were we to judge 
of Luther s tolerance towards the olden religion from his 
statements above on behalf of freedom. In Protestant 
literature, even to the present day, such a one-sided view 
has found a place, though it has long since been rejected by 
clear-sighted historians of that faith. In the course of the 
above narrative instances have been met with repeatedly 
of Luther s intolerance in theory and practice with regard 
to those who thought differently. Here we shall refer 
concisely to various details already set on record and then 
draw some new facts and utterances from the abundant 
store bearing on the matter in hand. 

1 Weim. ed., 11, p. 267 ; Erl. ed., 22, p. 90. 

2 Weim. ed., 18, p. 298 f. Erl. ed., 24 3 , p. 276. 


It was " his duty to oppose false teachers," Luther had written 
to his Elector on May 8, 1522, of the Canons of Altenburg. 1 In 
the same way, with much storming, he had insisted that the 
secular power should make an end of Catholic worship in the 
collegiate church of Wittenberg. 

From the standpoint of his principles it is rather remarkable 
that, when the persecuted Canons of Wittenberg appealed to the 
Elector s authority, Luther retorted : " What has the Elector to 
do with us in such things ? " 2 and that, later, in one of his 
sermons, he boldly replied to their objections in law : " What 
care we about the Elector ? He commands only in worldly 
matters." 3 In making a stand against the celebration of Mass 
at Wittenberg he had frankly declared : " It is the duty of the 
authorities to resist and to punish such public blasphemy," just 
as they are bound to punish the blasphemies uttered in the 
streets by godless men. The Elector and his Councillors were 
quite aware of the contradictions involved in Luther s teaching. 
Hence, at the Prince s instance, the Court pointed out to him on 
Nov. 24, 1524, that " he himself preached that the Word should 
be left to fight its own way, and that this it would do in its own 
good time, so God willed " ; he ought himself to be the first " to 
practise what he taught and preached." 4 In spite of this Luther, 
soon after, was successful in violently making a clean sweep of 
the Catholic Mass at Wittenberg. 5 

The theory that the Evangelical ruler must use force to root out 
Catholic worship was proclaimed by the Court chaplain Spalatin, 
a man " standing altogether under Luther s influence, and who, 
as a rule, merely voiced his views " ; 8 this he did in a letter of 
May 1, 1525, where he cites the prescriptions of the Mosaic law 
(Deut. vii.). According to this the secular authorities are bound 
" by the Law of God to abrogate idolatrous and blasphemous 
worship " ; any further toleration on the part of the Elector of 
" idolatry " in his lands would be a great sin ; on the other hand 
it would be a " great, consoling and Christian work " were he 

1 Erl. ed., 53, p. 134 (" Brief wechsel," 3, p. 356). He adds that he 
had notified the Altenburgers that " the rights, authority, revenues and 
power of the Canons were at an end because they were publicly 
opposed to the Evangel." 

1 To the Wittenberg Canons, July 11, 1523, Erl. ed., 53, p. 178 f. 
(" Briefe," 4, p. 176). 

3 In a sermon of Aug. 2, 1523, Weim. ed., 12, p. 649; Erl. ed., 17 s , 
p. 57. Paulus, " Protestantismus und Toleranz," p. 5. 

* Burkhardt, " Luthers Brief wechsel," p. 76. According to Burk- 
hardt, Hier. Sehurf and the licentiate Pauli were entrusted with the 
mission to Luther ; but " Luther continued to storm, and the council 
took steps to forbid the Mass and even intercourse with others. So far 
had Luther carried matters ! " Bezold, " Gesch. der deutschen Ref.," 
Berlin, 1890, p. 563, observes of Luther s attitude at that time : " It 
is of interest to note his transition from the principles of freedom of 
conscience and the independence of the Church to religious coercion 
and State assistance." 

* Cp. above, vol. ii., p. 327 ff. ; vol. iv., p. 510. 

* Cp. N. Paulus, " Protestantismus und Toleranz," p. 10. 


" to put the Christian bit in the mouth of all the clergy." " Ah, 
that would indeed be a noble work ! " x To the successor of the 
then Elector who died shortly after this, Spalatin wrote on Oct. 1, 
1525 : " Dr. Martin also says, that Your Electoral Highness ought 
in no way to suffer anyone to proceed any longer with the un 
christian ceremonies, or to set them up again" ; 2 on Jan. 10, 

1526, he, together with two Altenburg preachers, backed up the 
petition to the Elector for the extirpation of " idolatry " by 
pointing to the example of the pious kings of the Jews. 8 At 
Altenburg and elsewhere such exhortations were crowned all too 
speedily with success. 

" A secular ruler," Luther himself wrote to the Elector 
Johann on Feb. 9, 1526, " must not permit his underlings to 
be led into strife and discord by contumacious preachers, 
for this may issue in uproar and sedition, but in each 
locality there must be but one kind of preaching." 4 

On such grounds, however, Protestantism itself might 
just as well have been denied a hearing, seeing that it had 
come to disturb the peace, the " one kind of preaching " 
and the one faith. The princes, however, spurred on by 
their theologians, seized only too eagerly on this principle, 
using it in favour of the innovations. The Elector Johann 
declared as early as Feb. 31, 1526, that he had " graciously 
taken note of the Memorandum" and would, "for the 
future, conduct himself in such matters as beseemed a 
Christian " ; 5 and he kept his word. 

The intolerance shown to Catholics and their systematic 
oppression in Saxony stands in blatant contrast with the 
claim made, that Luther by his preaching had won religious 
freedom for the German lands. Banishment was the 
punishment incurred by those who chose to remain stead 
fast in their attachment to the Catholic faith. Thus, in 

1527, it was expressly laid down in the regulations for the 
Saxon Visitation, that : " Whoever is suspected in the 
matter of the Sacraments, or of any other error in the 
faith" is to " be summoned and questioned, and, if neces- 

1 Reprinted in Kolde s, " Friedrich der Weise," 1881, p. 68 ff. 

2 /&., p. 72. 

3 The Memo, of the three preachers in "Mitteil. der geschichts- 
forsch. Gesellschaft des Osterlandes," 6, 1866, p. 513 ff.; cp. Enders, 
" Luthers Brief wechsel," 5, p. 318, n. 1. On Altenburg, see above, 
vol. ii., p. 314 ff. 

4 Erl. ed., 53, p. 367 (" Brief wechsel," 5, p. 318). 

c In Burkhardt, " Luthers Brief wechsel," p. 102, and Enders, 
" Briefwechsel," 5, p. 320, 


sary, witnesses against him are also to be called." " Such 
an inquisition is also to be instituted by the Visitors in 
the case of the laity." 1 If they refuse to abjure their 
" errors" they are to be given a certain time to sell their 
possessions and to quit the land, with a " warning of the 
severe penalties with which any ecclesiastic or layman 
will be visited who is again found in the country. 2 Bearing 
in mind the difficulty emigration presented at that time, 
particularly in the case of the people on the land, one can 
appreciate the injustice of the measure. 

Luther and his followers frequently enough appealed to theo 
logical grounds in support of such measures, above all to the Old 
Testament enactments against blasphemers and contemners of 
religion. One-sidedly they simply applied to their own day and 
to their own controversial purposes, the exceptional regulations 
of the Mosaic dispensation which sought to preserve the religion 
of the chosen people in the midst of a heathen world. In this 
connection Luther appeals to Moses without the slightest hesita 
tion though, as a rule, armed with the New Testament, he is 
ready enough to assail the Mosaic Law ; he also set up the pious 
" Kings of Juda and Israel " as patterns. Wenceslaus Link did 
much the same when he summoned the Altenburg Town-Council 
to make a stand against Catholicism and abrogate the " lies and 
fond inventions of the idolaters " ; 3 nor did Spalatin hesitate to 
point out to the Saxon Elector the commendation the pious 
rulers of the Jews had earned from God for their bloody repression 
of idolatry. 4 

Another ground for compulsion, to which Spalatin gives 
expression in a letter to the Elector, was, that : They must not 
forget how " many a poor man would more readily come to the 
Evangel, were that wretched system [of Popery and its idolatry] 
no longer in existence." In other words, were Catholic worship 
rooted out, Catholics would more easily be won over to the 
Evangel. 5 It was on such a standpoint as this that the Augsburg 
declaration of 1530 made by the theologians of the Saxon 
Electorate was based. The Emperor had demanded from the 
Protesting Princes toleration of the Catholic worship for those of 
their subjects who chose to remain Catholic. The theologians 
thereupon expressed themselves against such an arrangement, 
and urged that, in this case, Lutheran proselytism would be 

1 Text in Sehling, " Die evang. Kirchenordnungen des 16 Jahrh.," 
Abt. 1, 1. Halfte, 1902, p. 142 ff. See above, vol. v., p. 592 f. 

2 76. These stern measures were aimed at the followers of Carlstadt 
and Zwingli, but were also applied to the Catholics. 

3 The writing, most probably by Link (spring, 1524), is in the 
" Mitteilungen der geschichtsforsch. GeselLschaft des Osterlandes," G, 
p. 119 ff. 

4 In the Mem. referred to above, p. 241, n. 3. 

5 Paulns, ib. f p. 12. 


hampered : " Were it to be said that the rulers were not to 
hinder it, though the preachers were to preach against it, it is 
clear of what [small] good would be all the teaching and preaching 
of the ministers." 1 

In the Duchy of Saxony, as everybody knows, the intro 
duction of Lutheranism was opposed by Duke George. His 
severity he justified by appealing to the thousand-year-old 
law of the one great world-wide Church, the Church of the 
Apostles, of the Fathers and martyrs and (Ecumenical 
Councils and great missioners of all ages, a law, moreover, 
sanctioned by the Empire. When, in 1533, a number of 
Lutherans were banished from the Duchy 2 Luther seized 
upon this as a pretext for controversy. Roundly scolding the 
" Ducal tyrant," he declared this sentence of banishment 
to be " a devilish and criminal thing." The authority of the 
sovereign, so he now wrote, again contradicting himself, 
44 only extends over life and property in secular matters." 3 
But, after George s death in 1539 and the accession of his 
brother Henry, Luther s tone changed, for Henry held 
Lutheran views. In a letter he sent about that time to the 
Elector Johann Frederick, he is angry because more than 
500 of the Saxon clergy, all of them " venomous Papists," 
had not yet been driven out. " For the sake of the poor 
souls, many thousands of whom live neglected under such 
parsons," he urges the Elector to do his best " to help and 
promote a Visitation." 4 He demands that Duke Henry, as 
the sovereign and protector of the bishopric of Meissen, 
should put a damper on the blasphemous idolatry as 
best he could, for the Princes who are able to do so should 
at once abolish Baal and all idolatry." 5 He also wished that 
the bishop of Meissen, though a Prince of the Empire, should 
" at once bow his head to the Evangel" ; in this matter 
there is no need for much disputing. 

It was but natural that such intolerance often led to 
scenes of brutality ; such was the case in the cathedral of 
Meissen, where the splendid tomb of Benno, the saintly 

1 " Corp. ref.," 2, p. 307. 

2 Cp. their petition to George drafted by Luther, " Brief wechsel" 
9, p. 285. 

3 Letter of the first half of July. 1533, " Werke," Erl. ed., 31, 
p. 243ft 1 . ("Brief wechsel," 9, p. 318). 

4 Sep. 19, " Brief wechsel," 12, p. 246. 

4 Beginning of July, 1639, in the Memorandum on the need of 
abolishing the Mass at Meissen. Ib., p. 189. Paulus. t6., p. 15. 


bishop of Meissen, was hewn in pieces, and the statue of the 
patron, which was an object of veneration to all the people, 
was set up headless at the church door as a laughing-stock 
for the Lutherans. 1 

Hand in hand with such legal coercion, which he both 
approved and furthered, went Luther s declaration which, 
though seeming to promote freedom, really constituted a 
new encroachment on the rights of conscience viz. that : 
No one was to be forced to believe in his heart, but that 
4 the people were to be driven to the sermons for the sake 
of the Ten Commandments, so that they might at least learn 
the outward works of obedience." 2 " It would be grand," 
so he told Margrave George of Brandenburg, " if your 
Serene Highness on the strength of your secular authority 
enjoined on both parsons and parishioners under pain of 
penalties the teaching and learning of the Catechism, in 
order, that, as they are Christians and wish to be called 
such, they may, please God, be compelled to learn and to 
know what a Christian ought to know, whether he believes 
it or not." 3 At his instance attendance at the sermons was 
imposed on all people in the Saxon Electorate under pain of 
penalty, whatever they might think of the preaching. 4 

God Himself has abrogated " all authority and power where it 
is opposed to the Evangel," 5 so, as early as 1522, ran one of the 
principles he used for the violent suppression of Catholic worship. 
Of the Catholic foundations he says in the same year : "If the 
preacher does not make men pious (i.e. does not preach according 
to Luther s doctrine), the goods are no longer his." 6 Violent 
interference with the Mass was, according to him, no revolt when 
it came from the established authorities. 7 " It is the duty of the 
sovereign, as ruler and brother Christian, to drive away the 
wolves," 8 and those who do not preach the Evangel are " wolves "; 
it is "an urgent duty to drive away the wolf from the sheep- 
fold." 9 The Pope himself, however, deserves the worst fate, for 
he is the "werwolf who devours everything. Just as all seek to 

1 Paulus, ib. 

2 To Jos. Levin Metzsch of Mila, Aug. 26, 1529, " Werke," Erl. ed., 
54, p. 97 (" Brief wechsel," 7, p. 149). 

3 On Sep. 14, 1531, " Werke," Erl. ed., 54, p. 255 (" Brief wechsel," 
9, p. 103). 

4 Sehling, " Kirchenordmmgen," 1, 1, pp. 175, 176, 187, 195. 
Cp. Luther to Beier of Zwickau, 1533, undated, " Briefwechsel," 9, 
p. 365. 

6 Above, vol. ii., p. 311, and present vol., p. 240, n. 1. 
6 Ib., vol. ii., p. 318. 7 Ib., p. 381. 

8 /6., p. 319. Jb. f p. 318. 


kill the werwolf, and very rightly, so is it a duty to suppress the 
Pope by force." 1 

" Not only the spiritual but also the secular power must yield 
to the Evangel, whether cheerfully or otherwise." 2 

Hence it follows that the salvation of his soul requires of a 
Christian prince the prohibition of the Popish worship. 3 If it is 
his duty to resist the Turk far more must he oppose the Pope : 
" What harm does the Turk do ? " It is clear that, " as regards 
both body and soul the government of the Pope is ten times worse 
than that of the Turk." 4 

" Whoever wishes to live amongst the burghers must keep the 
laws of the borough and not dishonour or abuse them, else he 
must pack and go." The authorities are not to " allow them 
selves and their people to be forced into idolatry and falsehood." 6 
Hence " let the authorities step in and try the case and whichever 
party does not agree with Scripture, let him be ordered to hold 
his tongue." 6 The Prince must behave like David, and hold 
that, as regards " God and the service of His Sovereignty every 
thing must be equal and made to intermingle, whether it be 
termed spiritual or secular," being " kneaded together into one 
cake." 7 How many false teachers had David, his model, not been 
forced " to expel or in other ways stop their mouths." 8 

It is not, however, enough to impose silence on them. They 
must so Luther began to teach about 1530 be treated as 
public blasphemers and punished accordingly : 9 They " must 
not be suffered but must be banished as open blasphemers." 
Thus must we act with those who " teach that Christ did not die 
for our sins but that each one must atone for them on his own ; 
for this also is a public blasphemy against the Gospel." 10 Hun 
dreds of times does he charge the Catholics with thus robbing 
the saving death of Christ of all significance by their doctrine of 
good works. 

These intolerant principles, which could not but lead to 
persecution, were made even worse by the abuse and 
invective which Luther publicly showered on the representa 
tives of Catholicism. He taught the mob to call them 
" blasphemous ministers of the Babylonian whore," knaves, 
bloodhounds, hypocrites and murderers. In the Articles 
of Schmalkaldcn which found a place among the Symbolic 
Books, he introduces the Pope as the dragon who leads 
astray the whole world, as the 4 real Antichrist and as the 
"devil himself" whom it was impossible to " worship as 

1 Above, vol. iv., p. 298. 2 Above, vol. iii., p. 45. 

3 Ib., p. 359. * 16., p. 79 f . 

5 Above, vol. v., p. 367. 6 /&., p. 578. 

7 Ib., p. 580. Ib., p. 579. 

Paulus, ib., p. 32. 
10 " Werke," Erl. eel., 39, p. 250 f. Paulus, ib., p. 35. 


Master or as God," for which reason he would not suffer the 
Pope as " Head or Lord " ; they must say to him : " May 
God rebuke thce, Satan!" (Zach. iii. 2). 1 Among his 
monstrous caricatures of the Pope he also included one 
depicting the " well-deserved reward of the Most Satanic 
Pope and his Cardinals," as the inscription runs below. 
Here the Pope is seen on the gallows with three Cardinals ; 
their tongues which have been torn out by the root are 
nailed to the gibbet and devils arc scurrying off with their 
souls. The picture is embellished with the following 
doggerel : 

" Did Pope and Card nal hero below 
Their due reward receive, 
Then would their tongues to gibbets cleave, 
As our draughtsman s lines do show." 2 

Threats oj Bloody Reprisals against Papists, Priestlings 
and Monks 

At the right moment let us fall upon the Turks " and the 
priests and smite them dead ! " Only then shall we be 
successful against the Turks ! So runs one of Luther s 
sayings in the Table-Talk. 3 

" Oh, that our Right Reverend Cardinals, Popes and 
Roman Legates had more kings of England to put them to 
death!" 4 This he wrote in 1535, after the execution of 
Thomas More and John Fisher by Henry VIII. 

As early as 1520 he had exclaimed against Prierias : If 
thieves are punished by the rope, murderers by the sword 
and heretics by fire, why not proceed against " these 
noxious teachers of destruction these Cardinals, Popes and 
the whole swarm of the Roman Sodom, who are ever 
ceaselessly destroying the Church of God with every kind 
of weapon, and wash our hands in their blood ? " 5 

Towards the end of his life, in 1545, he showed that he was still 
faithful to such views in spite of all the changes which had come 
over some of his other leading ideas. Let " the Pope, the 
Cardinals and the whole scoundrelly train of his idolatrous, Popish 

1 Above, vol. iii., p. 431. 

2 Denifle, "Luther und Luthertum," 1 p. 801. Cp. above, vol. v., 
p. 384, and elsewhere. 

3 Above, vol. ii., p. 324. * Above, vol. v., p. 110. 
* Vol. ii., p. 13. 


Holiness be seized," so he declares in " Das Bapstum vom Toui fel 
gestifft," and put to the death they deserve, either on the gallows 
to which their tongues may be nailed, or by drowning the 
"blasphemous knaves " in the Sea at Ostia. 1 

" It pleases me," he wrote on Dec. 2, 1536, to King Christian 
of Denmark, " that Your Majesty has extirpated the bishops who 
never cease to persecute God s Word and to worry the secular 
power ; I shall do my best to explain and vindicate your action." a 
At Wittenberg, as we see from a letter of a Wittenberg theologian, 
the report was current that the Danish king had " struck off the 
heads of six bishops." 3 This false account " seems to have been 
credited by Luther."* If this be so, then it seems that he was 
perfectly ready to justify so cruel a deed. The truth is, that, 
King Christian, after having had the bishops arrested (Aug. 20, 
1536), released them as soon as they had promised to resign their 

In the summer of 1540 Luther had it that the Pope and the 
monks were to blame for the many fires in Northern and Central 
Germany. " If this turns out true, then there will be nothing left 
for us but to take up arms in common against all the monks and 
shavelings ; I too shall join in, for it is right to slay the miscreants 
like mad dogs." 5 The worst of the lot, according to him, were 
the Franciscans. " If I had all the Franciscan friars in one 
house," he said a few days later, " I would set fire to it, for, in the 
monks the good seed is gone, and only the chaff is left. To the 
fire with them ! " 

No one, in the least familiar with Luther s writings, will 
be so foolish as to believe that it was really his intention 
to kill the Catholic clergy and monks. His bloodthirsty 
demands were but the violent outbursts of his own deep 
inward intolerance. They were called forth occasionally by 
other alleged misdeeds of Popcr} r , of its advocates and 
friends, for instance, by the burdensome taxes imposed by 
the Church, by her use of excommunication, and by the 
action taken against the Lutherans, particularly by the 
resolutions of the Diets for the suppression of Protestantism. 
Nor must we forget that the religious dissensions grew into 
a sort of permanent warfare and that war tends to produce 
effusions such as would be unthinkable in times of peace ; 
nor was the warlike feeling a monopoly of the Lutheran 

Above, vol. v., p. 383. 

" Werke," Erl. ed., 55, p. 156 (" Brief wechsel," 11, p. 136). 
Liborius Magdeburger (Dec. 2, 1536) to the Town Clerk of Zwickau 
Johann Roth. Enders, " Luthers Brief wechsel," ib., p. 136, n. 3. 
Enders, ib. 6 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 171. 

76., p. 180. 


But who was it who was responsible for having provoked 
the war ? 

Occasional counsels to patience and endurance, to self- 
restraint and consideration were indeed given by Luther 
from time to time 1 (they have been diligently collected by 
his modern supporters), but, generally speaking, they are 
drowned in the din of his controversial invective. 

What was to be expected when the people, who were 
already profoundly excited by the social conditions, were 
told : " Better were it that all bishops were put to death, 
and all foundations and convents rooted out than that one 
soul should be seduced" by Popish error. 2 " What better 
do they deserve than to be stamped out by a great revolt ? " 3 
If his reforms were rejected then it was to be wished that 
monasteries and foundations " were all reduced to one great 
heap of ashes." 4 "A grand destruction of all the 
monasteries, etc., would be the best reformation ! " 5 What 
wonder " were the Princes, the nobles and the laity to hit 
Pope, bishop, priest and monk on the head and drive them 
out of the land ? " 6 The " Rhine would hardly suffice to 
drown "the many " bull-mongers," Cardinals and "knaves." 7 

The Death- Penalty Jor Sectarians within the New Fold 

In the above we have dealt with Luther s intolerance in 
theory and practice towards the Catholic Church. It 
remains for us to look at his attitude towards the sects 
within his own camp. 

The question, how far they were to be tolerated, or 
whether it would be better forcibly to suppress them was 
first brought home to Luther by the Anabaptist movement 
under Thomas Miinzer. Sure of the upper hand, Luther 
decided, as we know, at the end of July, 1524, to advise the 
Saxon Princes to leave the Anabaptists in peace so far as 
their doctrines were concerned. " Let them preach as they 
please," was his advice, for " there must needs be heresies 
(1 Cor. xi. 19). 8 He explained to Lazarus Spengler of 
Nuremberg on Feb. 4, 1525, that the Anabaptists were 
not to be punished, particularly with "bodily penalties," 

1 Cp. above, vol. iii., p. 44 ff. 2 Vol. ii., p. 101. 3 Ib. 
4 Vol. iii., p. 46. 5 Ib. 6 Ib. 7 /&., p. 126. 

8 Weito. ed., 15, p. 218 f. ; Erl. ed., 53, p. 255 f. 


because, in his opinion, they were no real blasphemers, but 
merely " like the Turks or straying Christians." 1 In May 
of the same year he showed himself disposed to universal 
toleration. 4 The authorities are not to hinder anyone 
from teaching and believing what he pleases " ; 2 a principle 
which, as we have shown above (p. 239), he himself had 
contravened in practice as early as 1522, and was finally 
to set aside altogether. 

As for the Anabaptists, in 1527 Luther was not yet in 
favour of the "putting to death" and bloody "rooting 
out" of these sectarians. In 1528 he even taught in his 
exposition of the Parable of the Good Seed and the Tares 
that " we are not to fight the fanatics with the sword." 3 
What made him hesitate to advise the putting to death of 
these heretics was, as he told his friend Wenceslaus Link 
of Nuremberg in 1528, the apprehension that this might 
lead to abuses ; he feared lest, in the time to come, we 
might turn the sword against the best " among us." 4 But 
without a doubt he approved of the Edict of the Elector 
Johann (Jan. 17, 1528) which proscribed the writings of the 
Anabaptists, Sacramentarians and fanatics throughout the 
land if indeed the Edict itself may not be traced directly 
to Luther, as Zwingli suspected. 5 In 1528 it also seemed 
to him right to decree the penalty of banishment in the case 
of the Anabaptists. 6 

When, however, the danger had become more evident, 
which the Anabaptist heresy spelt both to the land-frith 
and the foundations of Christianity, not to speak of the 
Lutheran teaching, Luther adopted a sterner line of 

His views altered in 1530. After a Mandate had been 
issued in the Saxon Electorate against the 4 secret preachers 
and conventicles, Anabaptists and other baneful novel 
teaching," six Anabaptists were executed early in the year 
at Reinhardsbrunn in the duchy of Saxe-Gotha. The 

1 " Brief wechsel," 5, p. 117. 

2 Weim. ed., 18, p. 299 ; Erl. ed., 24 2 , p. 276. Paulus, ib., p. 28 f. 

3 Erl. ed., 4 2 , p. 290 f. Paulus, ib., p. 30 f. 

4 Letter of July 14, 1528, " Briefwechsel," 6, p. 299 : " In hac 
causa ferret me exempli sequela, quam in papistis et ante Christum in 
ludceis videmus. . . . Idem sequuturum esse timeo et apud nostros." 
If on the other hand they erred on the side of severity in the matter of 
banishment, the evil was not so great. Paulus, p. 31. 

6 Paulus, ib., p. 29. 76., p. 31. 


discussion which took place on this event gave Melanchthon 
occasion to declare in Feb., 1530, that, " even though the 
Anabaptists do not advocate anything seditious or openly 
blasphemous" it was, "in his opinion, the duty of the 
authorities to put them to death." 1 In the spring of 1530, 
with the Anabaptists in his mind, Luther, in his com 
mentary on Ps. Jxxxii. dealt with the question whether the 
authorities " ought to forbid strange teachings or heresies 
and punish them, seeing that no one should or can force 
men into the Faith." 2 

His detailed reply to the question which it was then impossible 
any longer to blink, centres round the distinction he makes of 
two kinds of heretics, viz. those who were seditious, and those 
who merely " teach the opposite of some clear article of faith." 
Of the latter, i.e. the non-revolutionary, he says expressly : 
" These also must not be allowed but must be punished like 
public blasphemers." Of those, who, though holding no office, 
force themselves in as preachers, and thus imperil the faith and 
lead to risings, he writes, that their oath of allegiance obliged the 
burghers not to listen to them but rather to report them either to 
their parson or to the authorities. If such a one will not desist 
" then let the authorities hand over knaves of that ilk to their 
proper master, to wit Master Hans " (i.e. the hangman). 3 As for 
those Anabaptists who preached open revolt, they had, in his 
opinion, by that very fact incurred the penalties of the law. At 
any rate it was not merely on account of their sedition that 
Luther wished to see the Anabaptists punished. 

Another statement of his has come down to us from an outside 
source. Luther s friend, Lazarus Spengler of Nuremberg, had a 
little before this, on March 17, 1530, sought to secure from 
Luther, through Veit Dietrich, some directions on how to deal with 
heretics. Dietrich verbally obtained from his master the desired 
instructions and promptly sent them to Spengler by letter. 4 They 
were to the effect that not merely the heretics who offend against 
public order were to be punished, but also those who merely do 
harm to religion, such as the Sacramentarians (Zwinglians) and 
Papists ; as they are to be looked upon as blasphemers, they 
cannot be suffered. It is noteworthy, that, in Luther s corre 
spondence in 1530, in a letter from the Coburg to Justus Jonas, 
we find him congratulating himself 011 the report (a false one) of 
the execution of a certain heretic. On receiving the announce 
ment that Johannes Campanus, the anti-Trinitarian, had suffered 

1 " Corp. ref.," 2, p. 17 sq. Paulus, "&., p. 32. 

* Erl. ed., 39, p. 224 ff. 

3 76., pp. 250, 252, 254. The Commentary was printed in the spring 
of 1530. 

* U. Haussdorff, " Leben Spenglers," Nuremberg, 1741, p. 190 ff. 
Paulus, ib., p. 34. 


death as a heretic at Liege, Luther wrote : "I learnt this with 
joy " (" Iwlus audivi "). 1 

Early in October, 1531, agreeably with the Saxon Elector s 
Mandate, a number of persons suspected of holding Anabaptist 
views were taken to Eisenach for punishment and were there put 
to the torture ; it was now judged advisable to obtain a fresh 
memorandum from the Wittenberg theologians. 

Accordingly, at the end of 1530, Melanchthou at the 
instance of the Electoral Court once more took the matter 
in hand. He drafted a memorandum on the duty of the 
secular authorities in the matter of religious differences, 
with particular reference to the Anabaptists. In it he set 
forth at length the grounds for a regular system of coercion 
by the sword. Luther, too, set his name to the document 
with the words : " It pleases me, Martin Luther." In it the 
sectarians were reprobated as blasphemers because they 
reject " the public preaching oflice [the ministry] and teach 
that men can become holy without any preaching and 
ecclesiastical worship." They ought to be visited with death 
by the public authorities whose duty it is to " befriend and 
uphold ecclesiastical order " ; and in like manner should 
their adherents and those whom they have led astray be 
dealt with, who insist, " that our baptism and preaching is 
not Christian and therefore that ours is not the Church of 
Christ." 2 Nevertheless, we can see from the words Luther 
adds after his signature that the decision, or at least its 
severity, aroused some misgivings in him. He says : 
4 Though it may appear cruel to punish them by the sword, 
yet it is even more cruel of them to condemn the preaching 
office and not to teach any certain doctrine, to persecute the 
true doctrine, and, over and above all this, to seek to destroy 
the kingdoms of this world." 

It is quite true that Luther and Melanchthon had an eye 
on the seditious character of these sects, yet present-day 
Protestant theologians are not justified when they try to 
explain and excuse their severity on this ground. On the 
contrary, as we have already pointed out, the texts plainly 
show that they were chiefly concerned with the punishment 
of the sectarians offences against the faith. This was made 
the principal point, as we see in Melanchthon s memorandum 

1 Aug. 3, 1530, " Brief wechsel," 8, p. 163. 

1 " Corp. ref.," 4, pp. 737-740. Cp. Paulus, ib., p, 41 f. 


just referred to. He says, for instance : " Though many 
Anabaptists do not openly teach any seditious doctrines," 
yet " it was both sedition and blasphemy for them to 
condemn the public ministry." It was therefore the duty 
of the authorities, above all on account of the second com 
mandment of the Decalogue, to uphold the public ministry 
and to take steps against them. If, to boot, they also taught 
seditious doctrines then it was " all the easier to judge 
them," as we read in another memorandum of the Witten 
berg theologians (1536) of which Melanchthon was also the 
draughtsman. 1 

To N. Paulus belongs the credit of having thrown light 
on the true state of affairs, for, even previous to the publica 
tion of his " Protestantismus und Toleranz im 16 Jahr- 
hundert " (1911) he had discussed Luther s attitude both in 
his shorter writing, Luther und die Gewissensf reiheit 
(1905) and in various articles in reviews. After him, the 
Protestant historian P. Wappler took up the same views, 
particularly in his Die Stellung Kursachsens ... zur 
Tauferbewegung " (1910). In the " Neues Archiv fur 
sachsische Geschichte " (1911) O. A. Hecker also quite 
agrees in rejecting the opinion of certain recent Protestant 
theologians, who, as he says, " all try to exonerate Luther 
from any hand in the executions for heresy, though they can 
only do so by dint of forced interpretations, as Paulus pointed 
out." 2 

Between 1530 and 1532 Luther s intolerance comes yet more 
to the fore ; it was indeed his way, when once he had made any 
view his own, to urge it in the strongest terms. Thus, at the end 
of 1531, he again alludes to Master Hans : " Those who force 
themselves in without any office or commission are not worthy 
of being called false prophets but are vagrants and knaves, who 
ought to be handed over to the tender mercies of Master Hans." 3 
" It is not allowed that each one should proceed according to his 
own ideas and set up his own doctrine and fancy himself a sage, 
and dictate to, and find fault with, others." " This I call judging 
of doctrine, which is one of the greatest and most scatheful vices 

1 Printed at Wittenberg in 1536 and signed by Luther, Bugenhagen, 
Cruciger and Melanchthon on June 5. Cp. " Brief wechsel," 10, p. 347 ; 
" Corp. ref.," 3, p. 195 aqq. 

* Vol. 32, 1911, p. 155, in a review of Wappler s work. For further 
details from Wappler and from the valuable studies of W. Kohler see 
below, p. 266 ff. 

3 Weim. ed., 32, p. 507 ; Erl. ed., 43, p. 313. 


on earth, whence indeed all the fanatics have sprung." The two 
last sentences occur in his sermons on St. Matthew s Gospel. l 

Still more striking is the demand he makes of Duke Albert of 
Prussia concerning the Zwinglians ; here his zeal against these 
heretics seems to blind him, for his arguments recoil against 
himself, though apparently he does not notice it. Every Prince, 
he says in a psychologically remarkable passage, who does not 
wish " most gruesomely to burden his conscience " must cast out 
the Zwinglians from his land, because, by their denial of the 
presence of Christ in the Supper, they set up a doctrine " contrary 
to the traditional belief held everywhere and to the unanimous 
testimony of all." 

But how many doctrines had not Luther himself set up 
contrary to the ancient faith and to the unanimous testimony of 
all ? It was, so he goes on, " both dangerous and terrible " to 
" believe anything contrary to the unanimous testimony, belief 
and teaching of the whole of the Holy Christian Church, which, 
from the beginning and for more than 1500 years, had been 
universally received throughout the world." This was tanta 
mount to " not believing in the Christian Church at all, and not 
merely to condemn the whole of the Holy Christian Church as a 
damned heretic, but also Christ Himself together with all the 
Apostles and Prophets, who had formulated the Article which we 
now recite, I believe one Holy Christian Church, and borne 
such powerful witness to it." 2 

" The worldly authorities bear the sword," so Luther said 
in his Home-Postils, " with orders to prevent all scandal, so 
that it may not intrude and do harm. But the most 
dangerous and horrible scandal is where false doctrine and 
worship finds its way in. ... For this reason the Christian 
authorities must be on the look-out for such scandal. . . . 
They must resist it stoutly and realise that nothing else will 
do save they make use of the sword and of the full extent 
of their power in order to preserve the doctrine pure and 
the worship clean and undefiled." 

" Then everything will go well." 3 

We have also his exposition of Ps. ci. (1534), where there 
occurs the eulogy of David, the " scourge of heretics." 4 

How he was in the habit of dealing with the Sacra- 
mentarians at a later date the following instance may serve 
to show, which at the same time reveals his coarseness and 
his reliance on the secular authorities. To Luther s 

1 Ib., p. 475 = 264 f. Paulus, ib., p. 45. 

2 Weim. ed., 30, 3, p. 552 f. ; Erl. ed., 54, p. 288 f., Letter of Feb. 
or the beginning of March, 1532 (" Briefweohsel," 9, p. 157). 

Erl. ed., I 3 , p. 196 f. (c. 1533). 
Ib., 39, pp. 318 320. 


doctrine that Christ was bodily present, not only in the 
Host, but throughout the world, the Sacramentarians had 
rejoined : Good, Lhcn we shall partake of Him everywhere, 
in " spoon, plate and beer-can ! ?>1 To this Luther s reply 
ran : Sec " what graceless swine we abandoned Germans 
for the most part are, lacking both manners and reason, who, 
when we hear of God, esteem it a fairy tale. . . . All seek to 
do their business into it and to wipe their back parts on it. 
The temporal authorities ought to punish such blasphemers. 
. . . God knows I write of such high things most unwillingly 
because they must needs be set before such dogs and swine. 
. . . Hearken you, you pig, dog, or fanatic, or whatever 
brainless donkey you may be : Though Christ s body is 
everywhere, yet you will not be able to lay hold of it so 
easily. . . . Begone to your pigsty and wallow in your own 
muck ! . . . there is a distinction between His Presence and 
your laying hold of Him ; He is free and nowhere bound," 
etc. Luther himself was, however, very far from making 
clear what the distinction was. After much else not to the 
point he concludes : " Oh, how few there are, even among 
the highly learned, who have ever meditated so profoundly 
on this article concerning Christ ! 2 

The treatment of the sectarians in the Saxon Electorate 
was in keeping with the theories and counsels of Luther and 
his theologians. 

Relentless measures were taken against them on account 
of their deviation from the faith even when no charge of 
sedition was forthcoming. On Jan. 15, 1532, the Elector 
Johann admitted the following as his guiding principle for 
interfering : " It is the duty of the authorities to punish 
such teachers and seducers, with God and with a good con 
science. . . . For were heretics and contemners of the 
Word of God not punished we should be acting against 
the prescribed laws which we are in every way bound to 
observe." 3 

1 Weim. ed., 18, p. 148 ; Erl. ed., 30, p. 68. 

2 16., p. 148ff. = 68f. 

1 See Wappler, " Die Stellung Kursachsens und des Landgrafen 
Philipp von Hessen zur Tauferbewegung," 1910 (" RG1. Studien und 
Texte," ed. J. Graving), p. 156, 


As early as 1527 twelve men and one woman, who had received 
baptism at each other s hands, were beheaded. 1 Similar execu 
tions took place in 1530, 153:2 and 1538.- 

In 1539 the members of the \Vittenberg High Court wrote 
concerning three, Anabaptists then in prison at Eisenach : "If 
they do not recant or allow themselves to be reduced to obedience, 
it will be right and proper that they be put to death by the 
sword, on account of such blasphemy and because they have 
allowed themselves to be baptised elsewhere." Of any seditious 
teaching there was no question in these proceedings. 3 

One Anabaptist, Fritz Erbe, who had only gone astray in 
matters of faith, was kept in jail from 1530 to 1541, when death 
set him free. 4 Hans Sturm and Peter Pestel, both of Zwickau, 
were harmless sectarians without any seditious leanings ; the 
first was put in prison in 1529 and died there ; the latter was 
beheaded on June 16, 1536. 5 Hans Steinsdorf and Hans Hamster, 
were condemned to death in 1538 as "stubborn blasphemers." 6 
In the forties Duke Henry of Saxony caused an Anabaptist to be 
burnt as a heretic at Dresden. 7 

The Saxon lawyer, Matthias Coler (fl587), taught in his 
" Decisiones Germanice, that, according to the laws of 
Saxony those were to be punished by death at the stake 
(" de lure saxonico cremandi veniunf ) who openly denied 
cither the Divinity of Christ, or other important truths of 
faith ; before being burnt they were, however, to be 
questioned under torture concerning their confederates in 
order that the land might be purged of such wicked men. 8 

In thus interfering the sovereigns were well aware that they 
had the warm official approval of Luther and his fellows. 
To this, for instance, the Elector Johann Frederick appealed 
in 1533 when milder measures were suggested. He referred 
to the memorandum which his father had obtained from the 
Wittenberg theologians and lawyers concerning the execu 
tion of the Anabaptists; their decision had been, "that 
His Highness might with a good conscience cause those 
charged with Anabaptism to be punished by death," and, 
soon after, several of them were executed. 9 The person who 

1 Wappler, ib., p. 4. = Ib., pp. 12, 36, 85. 

3 P. 204 f. * P. 37 ft\, 83 ft. 

6 Wappler, " Inquisition und Ketzerprozesse in Zwickau zur 
Reformationszeit," Leipzig, 1908, p. 28 ft\, 70 ff. Paulus, ib., p. 316. 

8 Wappler, ib., p. 96 ff. 

7 Hasche, " Diplomat ische Gesch. Dresdens," vol. ii., 1817, p. 221. 
Paulus, ib., p. 317. 

8 Wappler, " Stellung Kursachsens," p. 242. Paulus. ib., p. 319. 
Wappler, ib., p. 164. Paulus, ib., p. 314. 


had thought otherwise, and to whom this vindication was 
accordingly addressed, was no less a man than Landgrave 
Philip of Hesse. 

Luther himself, too, had been obliged on various occa 
sions to justify the severity of his opinions. 

Luther ,? Self-justification and Excuses 

Philip of Hesse, though he treated Catholics with the 
utmost intolerance, refused to hear of punishing the Ana 
baptists with death unless indeed they were the cause of 
public disturbances. " We cannot find it in our conscience 
to put anyone to death by the sword on account of religion 
unless we have sufficient proof of other crimes as well." 
Such was the declaration he made in 1532 to Elector Johann 
of Saxony, and which he emphasised in 1545 to the latter s 
successor : * Were all those to be executed who are not of 
our faith what then should we do to the Papists, to say 
nothing of the Jews, who err even more greatly than the 
Anabaptists?" 1 

Luther was apparently far surer of his case. He is as 
confident, subsequent to 1530, in drawing from Scripture the 
principles for the treatment of the heretics as he is in 
defending them against the obvious objections so often 
brought against them. 

Luther had it that the line of action for which he stood 
was not coercion to any definite religious practices. " Our 
Princes," so he sought to reassure himself as early as 1525, 
" do not force people to the faith and to the Evangel but 
merely set a term to outward abominations." 2 

The Elector, as was to be expected, expressed himself 
likewise : Though it is not our intention to prescribe to 
anyone what he must hold or believe, yet, in order to guard 

1 Wappler, ib., pp. 155, 234. Paulus, ib., p. 311. 

2 To Spalatin, Nov. 11, 1525. This is one of the answers he gave to 
opponents who say, " neminem debere cogi ad fidem et evangelion," and 
" principes in externis solum ius habere." To the latter he replies : 
" principes cohibent externas abominationee" and goes on to add: 
" Cum igitur ipsimet \adversarii] fateantur, in externis rebus esse ius 
principum, ipsi sese damnant." If they wanted an example let them 
remember Christ Who drove the sellers out of the Temple. This he 
wrote, relying on the favour which the new Elector had extended to 
his cause : " Nosti quantum princeps iste noster est evangelii studiosus," 
so he remarks with satisfaction. " Briefwechsel," 5, p. 271. 


against harmful uprisings and other disorders, we refuse to 
recognise or permit any sects or schisms within our 
Princedom." 1 

Many a one amongst the new Doctors had begun, as a Protes 
tant historian of Saxony points out, 2 " to claim for his conscience 
the same right " (as Luther), while " following other paths than 
Luther had trodden " (in his search after God). May not, indeed, 
must not, such a one, so ran the objection, follow his conscience, 
seeing that Luther himself tells us to consult our conscience ? 
Yes, he may, is Luther s reply, but, if he be truthful, then he will 
admit my plain interpretation of the Bible as the right one, for 
** I have floored and overcome all my foes on the sure ground 
work of Holy Scripture." 3 

Moreover, might not the Princes holding Popish views seize on 
the coercion taught by the Lutherans as a pretext for similar 
measures against the Lutherans in their territories ? 

No, replies Luther, they must not do so for they would be 
committing the same sin as the Kings of Israel when they " slew 
the true prophets " ; but on account of the injustice of such 
slaughter, we are not to make nought of the law or refrain from 
stoning the false prophets. Pious authorities will not punish 
anyone unless they see, hear, learn or know for certain that 
they are blasphemers." 4 Even should Kaiser Charles come and 
tell us, that he is convinced that " the doctrine of the Papists is 
true, and that he must therefore, in accordance with God s 
command, use all his power to extirpate our heretical doctrines in 
his Empire," we must answer, that : " We know he is not 
certain of this, and, in fact, cannot be certain." 5 

But does this not come to much the same as imposing faith 
by some sort of compulsion ? 

No, is his answer. " The faith is not thereby forced on any 
one, for he is free to believe what he pleases. He is only forbidden 
to indulge in that teaching and blaspheming whereby he seeks to 
rob God and Christians of their doctrine and Word, whilst all the 
while enjoying their protection and all temporal advantages. Let 
him go where there are no Christians and have things his way 
there." 6 

The severity of his demands is hardly mitigated or 
excused by the right he gives people to leave the country. 
At any rate those who do not see eye to eye with him must 
get themselves gone, for, as he frequently remarks, whoever 

1 In the Visitation Rules of 1527, Sehling, ib. 

8 Brandenburg, " Moritz von Sachsen," 1, p. 22 f. 

3 Erl. ed., 57, p. 6. 

* Commentary on Ps. Ixxxii. Erl. ed., 39, p. 257 f. 

5 Memorandum of 1530, Erl. ed., 54, p. 179 f. (" Brief wochsel," 8 
p. 105). 

Comm. on Ps. Ixxxii., p. 251 f. 

VI. S 


wishes to dwell among the burghers must not disregard the 
laws of the borough. 1 

" By all this, however," so he says on another occasion, 
" no one is forced into the faith but the common man is 
merely set free from troublesome and obstinate spirits, and 
the knavery of the hole-and-corner preachers is checked." 2 
Thus, if the man who thinks otherwise wishes to lock up his 
convictions in his own breast, he is quite free to do so. 
Within, he may enjoy the most far-reaching freedom, since 
no earthly power extends to his thoughts. The reply of 
those concerned was, however, obvious ; what right, they 
asked, had the new religious tribunal to prevent a man from 
revealing his convictions and openly living up to them, and 
was not the order to keep silence tantamount to a stifling 
of conscience and to forcing people to become hypocrites ? 

Hence, in the ensuing discussions, we find that Luther and 
his friends were ever making fresh efforts to meet the 
objections ; in itself this was a sign of the weakness of the 
exclusivism adopted by the Lutherans, in spite of all they 
had formerly said, as soon as they had succeeded in winning 
the favour of the State. 

44 Some argue," we read in the memorandum of the 
Wittenbergers published in 1536, " that the secular author 
ities have no concern whatever with ghostly matters. This 
is going much too far. . . . The rulers must not only 
protect the life and belongings of their underlings, but their 
highest duty is to promote the honour of God and to prevent 
blasphemy and idolatry," etc. 3 

The memorandum was intended for Philip of Hesse. As 
Luther was aware that the Landgrave was loath to proceed 
to extremities with the Anabaptists, he added to the 
memorandum a note of his own. " Seeing that His Serene 
Highness the Landgrave reports that certain leaders and 
teachers of the Anabaptists . . . have not kept their 
promise (viz. to quit the land) Your Serene Highness may 
with a good conscience cause them to be punished with the 
sword, lor this reason also, to wit, that they have not kept 
their oath or promise. Such is the rule. Yet Your Serene 
Highness, needless to say, may at all times allow justice to 
be tempered with mercy, according to the circumstances." 4 

i Ib. 2 Ib., p. 252 f. Paulua, ib., p. 39. 

3 Above, p. 252, n. 1. * " Briefwechsel," 10, p. 340. 


If meant in earnest the latter recommendation to mercy 
does the speaker credit and is the more noteworthy because, 
in his later years, we do not often hear him pleading for the 
heretics. As a rule he is all too intent on emphasising the 
wickedness of what he terms " blasphemy and idolatry," 
i.e. of whatever was at variance with his own teaching. 

But what and this is the main objection entitles Luther s 
doctrine to be regarded as the standard of belief ? This point 
Luther usually evaded. He says : Those heretics are to be 
punished " whose teaching is at variance with the public articles 
of the faith which are plainly grounded on Scripture and believed 
throughout the world by the whole of Christendom." 1 "Such 
articles, common to the whole of Christendom, have already been 
sufficiently tested, examined, proved and determined by Scrip 
ture and by the confession of the whole of Christendom, confirmed 
by many miracles, sealed by the blood of the holy Martyrs, 
witnessed to and defended by the books of all the Doctors and 
are not now to become the prey of faultfinders or cavillers." 8 
A sharp answer, one very much to the point, was given by 
Bullinger of Zurich, who spoke of it as " truly laughable " that 
his opponent should suddenly appeal to the fact " of the Church 
having so long held this." " If Luther s argument, based on long 
standing usage, be admitted, then is Popery quite in the right 
when it harps on the Church and her age. But then the whole of 
Luther s own doctrine tumbles over, for his teaching is not that 
which the Roman Church has held for so long." 3 Nor is it easy 
to tell which points of doctrine Luther, in his elastic fashion, 
included among the articles " clearly founded on Scripture " and 
held unquestioningly by the whole of Christendom. His words 
occasionally presuppose that all divergent doctrines, not only 
those of the Sacramentarians and Anabaptists, but even those of 
the Papists, were to be punished by the authorities. If everyone 
is to be punished who teaches " that Christ has not died for our 
sins but that each one must himself make satisfaction for them,"* 
(a doctrine unjustly foisted on the Papists by Luther), or who 
" condemns the public ministry and draws the people away from 
it," or who " insists that our baptism and preaching are not 
Christian and therefore that our Church is not the Church of 
Christ," 5 etc., then many Catholics could not but fall victims 
to the sword of the authorities. How often did not Luther 
designate every specifically Catholic doctrine as rank "blas 
phemy," and stigmatise every Catholic practice as idolatry ? 
Blasphemy and idolatry were, however, according to him, to be 
rooted out by violence. Truly his words gave promise of an 
abundant harvest of persecution. 

1 Comment, on Ps. Ixxxii. Erl. ed., 39, p. 250 f . 

2 16., p. 251 f. Paulus, ib., p. 36. 

3 To Albert, Margrave of Brandenburg. " Ein Sendbrief und Vorred 
der Dieneren zn Zurich," Zurich, 1532. A 4b. Paulus. ib.. p. 4K. 

* Comm. on Ps. Ixxxii., ib. * Ib. 


As a reason of his animus against heretics within his own 
fold Luther finally brings forward those personal considera 
tions which are familiar to all who have followed his contro 

His natural foes are those who in their " peculiar wisdom " 
" seek to teach something besides Christ and beyond our preach 
ing." 1 Hence he was fond of insisting that Christ was slaying the 
Papacy through him, and of rejecting all who " make a great 
pother " and " claim to know something new." They come, and, 
like Carlstadt, want to " seize upon the prize and poach upon 
my preserves." Had not Carlstadt come along " with the 
fanatics, Miinzer and the Anabaptists, all would have gone well 
with my undertaking." 2 These men want to "darken the sun 
of the Evangel " so that the world " may forget all that has 
hitherto been taught by us." 3 

" They want to have nothing to do with me," he complains of 
the fanatics, " and I want to have nothing to do with them. 
They boast that they have nothing from me, for which I heartily 
thank God ; I have borrowed even less from them, for which, too, 
God be praised."* The rupture with the Swiss came about 
because they " wished to be first." 5 

In all these dissensions he finds many a one saying to the 
Christians : "I am your Pope, what care I for Dr. Martin." And 
yet he alone had the right to call himself the " great Doctor " "to 
whom God first revealed His Word to preach." 6 

But did not his very self-reliance finally broaden the 
ideas of the preacher of coercion ? Did not Luther in a 
sermon preached at Eisleben on Feb. 7, 1546, as good as 
repudiate his former exclusivism ? 

It is true that this has been confidently asserted by Protestants, 
but the text of this sermon, known only through Aurifaber s 
Notes, does not justify such an inference. 7 In it the preacher is 
not treating of the attitude of the Christian authorities towards 
heresy, but is only showing how the faithful and the preachers 
must behave, surrounded as they are by wicked folk, by Ana 
baptists and sectarians. The occasion for speaking of this was 
supplied by the Sunday Gospel of the Tares, Mat. xiii. 24-30, 
which grow up together with the wheat in God s field, and which 
the Lord wishes to be left undisturbed until the Day of Judgment. 
Hence he explains how this must be understood, the local con 
ditions probably supplying him with a particular reason for doing 

1 Above, vol. ii., p. 347. 2 Vol. iii., p. 390. 3 Ib., p. 392. 

* Above, vol. v., p. 399. 5 Ib., p. 448. 6 Above, p. 144. 

7 Erl. ed., 20 2 , p. 555 ff. Aurifaber assures us that he " took clown 
the sermon from Luther s lips " and revised it " with diligence " at 
Wittenberg. Paulus, ib., p. 57 f. Cp. the intolerant sermon preached 
at Halle shortly before, below, p. 274. 


so, seeing that, in the County of Mansfeld, there must still have 
been some Catholics and that the Jews stood in favour. The 
greater part of the Sermon on the Tares is devoted to describing 
the passions and lusts which Christians must fight against in their 
own hearts with patience and perseverance. It is only towards 
the end that he speaks of the wickedness rampant in the world. 
He refutes the opinion of those, who ** would have a Church in 
which there is no evil but where all are prudent and pious, and 
pure and holy " ; thus " the Anabaptists, Miinzer and such like, 
wish to root out and put to death everything that is not holy." 
Hence " how are we to suffer the heretics and yet not to suffer 
them ? How am I to act ? If I tear up or root out the tares in 
one place then I spoil the wheat [according to the Parable], and 
the weeds will still grow up again elsewhere. Thus if I root out 
one heretic, yet the same devil-sown seed springs up again in ten 
other places." Hence we must look to it that we do not make 
matters worse by violence and suppression. " Papists and Jews 
will ever be with us." " You will not succeed in this world in 
entirely separating the heretics and false Christians from the 
just." " Look to it that you remain master in your own house 
hold ; see to it, you preachers, parsons and hearers [it is only to 
these that he is addressing himself, not to the State authorities], 
that heretics and seditious men, such as Miinzer was, do not rule 
or dominate ; grumble in a corner, that indeed they may do, but 
that they should mount the rostrum, get into the pulpit or go up to 
the altar, that, so far as in you lies, you must not allow." Care 
must be taken that the " pulpit and the Sacrament are kept 
undented. " " By human might and power we cannot root them 
out, or make them different. For, in this point, they are often 
far superior to us, can get themselves a following, draw the masses 
to them, and, on the top of it all, they have on their side the 
prince of this world, viz. the devil." 

The main thing therefore is that the heretics " should not rule 
in our Churches." 

But what are we to do against the tares, against the Papists 
and Sophists, against Cologne, Louvain and the devil s other 
thistles ? Of boils it holds good : " Let them swell until they 
burst. So too it is in secular and domestic government : Where 
[whether in the Town Council or among the servants] we cannot 
get rid of the wicked without harm or detriment, there we must 
put up witli them until the time is ripe." 

In this much-discussed Sermon on the Tares Luther is very far 
from wishing to give the authorities directions as to how to 
treat the sectarians. On the contrary he makes it plain that some 
other line of action than that described by him must be followed 
even by the faithful and the preachers, and much more so by the 
Christian authorities, whenever the heretics come out of their 
"corner " and try to climb into the pulpit or mount the altar. 
What was to be done that the pulpit and the Sacrament might 
remain imdefiled, he had already sufficiently explained elsewhere. 
Naturally, a sermon on the Gospel which tells us to leave the 


Tares until the harvest was scarcely the place for Luther to 
expound his severer theories on the treatment to be meted out to 
unbelievers and misbelievers, so that his silence here cannot be 
taken as a repudiation of the measures for which he so long had 
stood. At the close of the next sermon, the last he was ever to 
preach, addressing himself to the nobility, lie speaks very harshly 
of the Jews. "If they refuse to be converted, then, as blas 
phemers, they deserve that we should not suffer or endure them 
among us." " You Lords ought not to tolerate but rather expel 
them." This duty he bases on his usual principle : " Were I to 
tolerate the man who dishonours, blasphemes and curses Christ 
my Master, I should be making myself a partaker in the sins of 

His system of coercing and punishing heretics he certainly 
never repudiated. 

Compulsory Attendance at Church 

" Facts have shown," Luther wrote to Spalatin in 1527 of 
the conditions in his new churches, * i that men despise the 
Evangel and insist on being compelled by the law and the 
sword." 1 He was very anxious to make attendance at the 
Lutheran preaching a matter of obligation. 

According to his earlier statements, attendance at the 
preaching had been voluntary, for the matter of the sermons 
was to be judged by the hearers, in order that they might 
avoid what was harmful ; his subsequent practice of driving 
all to the preaching made an end of this freedom, or rather 
duty. Through the authorities, so far as his influence went, 
he insisted on this principle : " Even though they do not 
believe they must nevertheless, for the sake of the Ten 
Commandments, be driven to the preaching, so that they 
may at least learn the outward work of obedience." He 
wrote this at a time when he had already justified such 
coercion at Wittenberg, viz. on Aug. 26, 1529, in a letter to 
the " strict and steadfast" Joseph Levin Metzsch of Mila, 
who was shortly after appointed by the Elector to take part 
in the Visitation. 2 Instructions sent by Luther 011 the same 
day to Thomas Loscher, pastor of the same locality, are to 
the same effect (" cogendi sunt ad condones . . . audiant 
etiam inviti"). 3 The orders of the authorities concerning 
public worship were represented in the Visitation Uulcs for 

1 Above, vol. iii., p. 39. 

2 ErI. ed., 54, p. 98 (" Brief wechsel," 7, p. 151). 

3 " Brief wechsel," ib. 


the pastors (1528) as universally binding : " All secular 
authority is to be obeyed because the secular powers are 
not ordering a new worship but enforcing peace and 
charity." 1 The Preface of the Smaller Catechism (1531) 
was on the same lines. " Although we neither can nor 
should force anyone into the faith, yet the masses must be 
held and driven to it in order that they may know what is 
right or wrong in those among whom they live." 2 

In the same year Luther advised Margrave George of 
Brandenburg to compel the people to attend the Catechism 
" at the behest of the secular authority," for, since they 
" arc Christians and wish to be so called," it was only 
fitting " they should be obliged to learn what a Christian 
ought to know." The Ansbach preachers embodied this 
requirement in the same year in the alterations they pro 
posed in the church-regulations. 3 

Wittenberg served as the pattern. It was to Wittenberg 
that Leonard Beyer addressed himself when he succeeded 
Luther s friend, Nicholas Hausmann, as pastor of Zwickau. 
Luther answered his letter by describing the system of 
coercion practised in Wittenberg and the neighbourhood 
when people persistently neglected to attend the sermons : 
" With the authority and in the name of our Most Noble 
Prince it is our custom to affright those who disregard all 
piety and fail to attend the preaching, and to threaten them 
with banishment and the law. This is the first step. Then, 
if they do not amend, the pastors arc enjoined by us to ply 
them for a month or more with instructions and representa 
tions, and, finally, in the event of their still proving con 
tumacious, to excommunicate them, and to break off all 
intercourse with them as though they were heathen." He 
concludes : " The words of the Bible [Mat. xviii. 17 ; 2 Thes. 
iii. 6] concerning the avoidance of heretics are quite clear." 4 
He, however, forgets to add that neither he nor the 
pastors had ever been quite successful in their attempts at 

The above regulations of the authorities were to remain in 
force. In 1533 the Prince once more insisted that : No one 
is to be permitted to absent himself from the " common 

1 Weim. ed., 20, p. 223 ; Erl. ed., 23, p. 45 f. 
- Weim. ed., 30, 1, p. 349 : Erl. ed., 21, p. 7. 
:{ Enders, " Brief wechsel," 0, p. 104, n. II. 
4 In 1533, undated, " Briefwechsel," 9, p. :JO> 


church-going, everyone must be earnestly reminded of 
this." 1 In the General Articles of 1557 it was determined by 
the Elector August, that, whoever absented himself without 
permission from the sermon on Sundays and festivals, 
whether in the morning or afternoon, " more particularly in 
the villages was to be fined, or, if he was poor, "to be 
punished with the pillory, either at the church or at some 
prison." 2 The parsons, however, were to notify the author 
ities of any who contemned the preaching and the sacra 
ments, or who obstinately persisted in their false opinion. 
Even the practice of auricular confession was, at a later 
date, made a strict law ; whoever evaded confession and 
the Supper was liable to banishment. 3 The Saxon lawyer, 
Benedict Carpzov (1595-1666) in his " lurisprudentia 
ecclcsiastica" defended as self-evident the legal principle 
based on the practice of Luther s own country : " Those, 
who, after repeated admonitions, maliciously absent them 
selves from the Supper, are to be expelled from the land ; 
they are to be compelled to sell their goods and emigrate. 4 
The same scholarly lawyer elsewhere alludes to the Saxon 
custom of condemning seditious and blasphemous heretics 
to die at the stake. 5 

At Wittenberg strong ramparts were set up for the 
protection of the Lutheran doctrine and to prevent divergent 
opinions finding their way in. 

The Statutes of the Theological Faculty, probably drawn up in 
1533 by Melanchthon with Luther s approval,* made it strictly 
incumbent on the teachers to preach the pure doctrine in accord 
ance with the Confession of Augsburg ; in the event of any 
difference of opinion a commission of judges was to decide ; 
" after that the false opinion shall no longer be defended ; if 
anyone obstinately persists in so doing, he is to be punished with 
such severity as to prevent him any more spreading abroad his 
wicked views." 7 "The same Luther," says Paulsen of this, 

1 Sehling, 1, p. 195. 

2 " Ordimngen," etc., Dresden, 1573, Bl. 132, 146. Paulus, ib., 
p. 318. 

3 Cp. the Rescript of Sep. 1, 1023. Paulus, ib. 

4 Hannovia?, 1652, p. 861. Cp. ib., p. 858 sqq. Paulus, ib., n. 4. 

6 " Practica nova," I, q. 44, n, 45 : " Usu ac consuetudine saxonica 
obtinuit, eiusmodi hwreticoa scditioxos ant blaftphptnanteft igne comburi." 
Pnulus, ib., p. 323, n. 7. 

8 Paulus, ib., p. 49 against O. Hitachi. 

7 C. E. Forstemann, " Liber Decanorum facultatis theol. acad. 
Vitebergensis," 1838, p. 152 sqq. 


" who, twelve years before, had declared that his conscience would 
not allow of his conceding to Christendom assembled in Council 
the right to determine the formula of faith, now claimed for the 
Wittenberg faculty for this is what it amounts to the un 
questionable right to decide on faith. From 1535 to the day of 
his death Luther was without a break Dean of this Faculty." 1 

Again, subsequent to 1535, the preachers and pastors sent out 
or officially recommended by Wittenberg had to take the so-called 
" Ordination Oath " which had been suggested by the Elector 
in order to exclude false preachers. The ministers to be appointed 
within the Electorate, and likewise those destined to take up 
appointments elsewhere, had to submit at Wittenberg to a 
searching examination on doctrine ; only after passing it and 
taking an oath as to the future could they receive their com 
mission. The examination is referred to in the Certificate of 
Ordination. Thus, in the Certificate of Heinrich Bock (who was 
sent to Reval in Livonia) which is dated May 17, 1540, and signed 
by Luther, Bugenhagen, Jonas and Melanchthon, it is set forth 
that he had undertaken to " preach to the people steadfastly and 
faithfully the pure doctrine of the Gospel which our Church 
confesses." It is also stated that he adheres to the " consensus " 
of the " Catholic Church of Christ," and, for this reason, is 
recommended to the Church of Reval. 2 A similar Certificate for 
the schoolmaster Johann Fischer, who had received a call to 
Rudolstadt " to the ministry of the Gospel," is dated a month 
earlier. His doctrine, so it declares, had been found on examina 
tion to be pure and in accordance with the Catholic doctrine of 
the Gospel as professed by the Wittenbergers ; a promise had also 
been received from him to teach the same faithfully to the 
people ; for this reason " his call has been confirmed by public 
ordination." 3 Fischer had received the " diaconate." 

As early as 1535 we read of the solemn ordination of a certain 
Johann (Golhart ?), "examined by us and publicly ordained in 
the presence of our Church with prayers and hymns." He was 
" ordained and confirmed by order of our sovereign," having 
been called and chosen as " assistant minister " at Gotha by the 
local congregation headed by their pastor Myconius.* 

The doctrine of the punishment of heretics was afterwards 
incorporated by Melanchthon in 1552, in the Wittenberg 
instructions composed by him and entitled : The Examina 
tion of Ordinands." 5 

1 " Geach. des gelehrten Unterrichtes," I 2 , p. 212. 

2 " Briefwechsel," 13, p. 57. 

3 /&., p. 35, April 18, 1540. 

4 Luther to Myconius at Gotha, Oct. 24, 1535, ib., 10, p. 248 
* " Corp. ref.," 23, p t cvii. xq. 


Opinions of Protestant Historians 

The above account of Luther s intolerance is very much 
at variance with the Protestant view still current to sonic 
extent in erudite circles, but more particularly in popular 
literature. Luther, for all the harshness of his disposition, 
is yet regarded as having in principle advocated leniency, as 
having been a champion of personal religious freedom, and 
having only sanctioned severity towards the Anabaptists 
because of the danger of revolt. Below we shall, however, 
quote a scries of statements from Protestant writers who 
have risen superior to such party prejudice. 

Walther Kohler, in his 4 Reformation und Ketzerprozess 
(1901), wrote : 

" In Luther s case- it is impossible to speak of liberty of con 
science or religious freedom." " The death-penalty for heresy 
rested on the highest Lutheran authority." 1 According to 
Kohler there can be no doubt that prosecution for heresy among 
the Protestants was practically Lather s doing. " The views of 
the other reformers 011 the persecution and bringing to justice of 
heretics were merely the outgrowth of Luther s plan, they 
contributed nothing fresh." 2 The same writer is of opinion that 
the question, whether Luther would have approved of the 
execution of Servetus "must undoubtedly be answered in the 
affirmative."* " It is certain that Luther would have agreed to 
the execution of Servetus ; heresy as heresy is according to him 
deserving of death." 4 One observation made by Kohler is 
significant enough, viz. " that, when the preaching of the Word 
proved ineffectual against the heretics," Luther had recourse to 
the intervention of the secular authorities. 6 

The matter has been examined with equal frankness by 
P. Wappler in various studies in which he utilises new data 
taken from the archives. 6 

" That Luther in principle regarded the death penalty in the 
case of heretics as just, even where there was no harm done to 
the * regna mundi, " says Wappler, " is plain from the advice 
given by him on Oct. 20, 1534, to Prince Johaiiii of Anhalt in 
reply to his inquiry concerning the attitude to be adopted 
towards the Anabaptists at Zerbst." "The fact is, that from the 
commencement of 1530 the reformers cease to make any real 
distinction between the two classes of heretics [the seditious ones 

1 P. 25 f . 2 P. 29. 3 P. 38. 

4 Kohler, " Tlieol. Literaturztng.," 1900, p. 211. 

5 ; Ref. und Ketzerprozess," p. 23 Cp. above, p. 202. 


and those who merely taught false doctrines]. Heretics who 
merely * blasphemed were always regarded by them, at least 
where they remained obdurate, as practically guilty of sedition, 
and, consequently, as deserving the death penalty." " The 
principal part in this was played by Luther, Mclaiichthon being 
merely the draughtsman of the memoranda in which Luther s 
ideas on the question of heretics were reduced to a certain 
system." 1 " The many executions, even of Anabaptists who are 
known to have not been revolutionaries arid who were put to death 
011 the strength of the declarations of the Wittenberg theologians, 
refute only too plainly all attempts to deny the clear fact, viz. 
that Luther himself approved of the death penalty even in the 
case of such as w r ere merely heretics." 2 

Wappler, after showing how Luther s wish was, that everyone 
who preached without orders should be handed over to " Master 
Hans," adds : " And what he said, was undoubtedly meant in 
earnest ; shortly before this, on Jan. 18, 1530, as Luther had 
doubtless learned from Melanchthon, at Reinhardsbrunn near 
Ciotha, six such persons had been handed over to Master Hans, 
i.e. to the executioner, and duly executed." Wappler regards it 
as futile to urge that : " Luther could not prevent executions 
taking place in the Saxon Electorate " ; it is wrong to put the 
blame on Melanchthon rather than on Luther for the putting to 
death of heretics. 3 

Speaking of the execution of Peter Pestel at Zwickau, the same 
author 4 declares that it was " a sad sign of the unfortunate 
direction so early [1536] taken by the Lutheran reformation that 
its representatives should allow this man, who had neither 
disseminated his doctrine in his native land nor rebaptised . . . 
to die a felon s death." " Even contempt of the outward Word," 
he says, " carelessness about going to church and contempt of 
Scripture in this instance contempt for the Bible as interpreted 
by Luther was now regarded as 4 rank blasphemy, which it was 
the duty of the authorities to punish as such. To such lengths 
had the vaunted freedom of the Gospel now gone." 6 The 
introduction of the Saxon Inquisition (See above, vol. v., 593) 
leads him to remark : " The principle of evangelical freedom of 
belief and liberty of conscience, which Luther had championed 
barely two years earlier, was here most shamefully repudiated, 
particularly by this lay inquisition, and yet Luther said never a 
word in protest." 8 

In 1874 W. Maurenbrecher expressed it as his opinion that 
" Luther s tolerance in theory as well as in practice amounted 
to this : The Church and her ministers were to denounce such as 
went astray in the faith, whereupon it became the duty of the 
secular authorities to chastise them as open heretics." 7 In 1885 
L. Keller declared : "It merely displays ignorance of the actual 

1 " Stellung Kursachsens," p. 123 f. z Ib.< p. 125. 

3 Ib., p. 126 f. * " Die Inquisition," p. 70 f. 

5 /&., p. 69 ft. 6 " Inquisition," etc., p. 6 f. 

7 " Studien uiid Ski/zen zur Gesch. der RZ.," 1874, p. 20. 


happenings of that epoch, when many people, even to-day, take 
it for granted that such executions and the wholesale persecution 
of the Anabaptists were only on account of sedition, and that the 
reformers had no hand in these things." 1 "Luther indeed 
demands toleration," says K. Rieker, " but only for the Evan 
gelicals ; he demands freedom, but merely for the preaching of 
the Evangel." 2 According to Adolf Harnack "one of the 
Reformer s most noticeable limitations was his inability either 
fully to absorb the cultural elements of his time, or to recognise 
the right and duty of unfettered research." 3 

In Saxony, so H. Barge, Carlstadt s biographer, complains, 
" the police-force was mobilised for the defence of pure doctrine " ; 
" and Luther played the part of prompter " to the intolerant 
Saxon government. 4 " Luther s harsh, violent and impatient 
ways " and their " unfortunate " outcome are admitted un 
reservedly by P. Kalkhoff, another Luther researcher. 5 G. Lcesche 
calls Paulus s studies 011 Strasburg a " Warning against the 
edifying sentimentality of Protestant make-believe." 6 Luther 
" demanded freedom for himself alone and for his doctrine," 
remarks E. Friedberg, " not for those doctrines, which he regarded 
as erroneous." 7 Neander, the Protestant Church-historian, 
speaking of Luther s views in general as given by Dietrich, says 
they " would justify all sorts of oppression on the part of the 
State, and all kinds of intellectual tyranny, and were in fact the 
same as those on which the Roman Emperors acted when they 
persecuted Christianity." 8 

Two quotations from Catholic authors may be added. The 
above passage from Kohler reads curiously like the following 
statement of C. Ulenburg, an olden Catholic polemic ; writing in 
1589 he said : " When Luther saw that his disciples were gradu 
ally falling away from him and, acting on the principle of freedom 
of conscience, w r ere treating him as he had previously treated the 
olden Church, he came to think of having recourse to coercion 
against such folk." 9 

" Historically nothing is more incorrect," wrote Dollinger in 
his Catholic days, "than the assertion that the Reformation was 
a movement in favour of intellectual freedom. The exact 
contrary is the truth. For themselves it is true, Lutherans and 

1 " Die Reformation und die alteren Reformparteien," 1885, p. 446. 
Paulus, ib., p. 314. 

z " Die rechtliche Stellung der evangel. Kirche in Deutscliland," 
1893, p. 90. 

3 " Lehrb. der DG.," 3*, p. 816. 

* " Andreas Bodenstein von Carlstadt," 2, 1905, pp. 138, 187. 

5 " Literarisches Zentralblatt," 1905, No. 36. 

6 " Deutsche Literaturztng.," 1896, No. 2, on Paulus, " tJber die 
Reformatoren und die Gewissensfreiheit," 1895. 

7 " Deutsche Zeitschr. i iir KR.," 1896, p. 138. 

* Neander, " Das Eine mid Mannigfaltige des christl. Lebens," 
] 840, p. 224. 

9 " Ursachen, warumb die altgleubige catholische Christen bei dem 
alten waren Christenthumb verharren sollen," Cologne, 1589, p. 354. 


Calvinists claimed liberty of conscience as all men have done in 
every age, but to grant it to others never occurred to them so 
long as they were the stronger side. The complete suppression 
and extirpation of the Catholic Church, and in fact of everything 
that stood in their way, was regarded by the reformers as some 
thing entirely natural." 1 Luther s principles, aided by the 
arbitrary interference of the secular power in matters of faith, 
especially where Catholics were concerned, led both in his age and 
in the following, "to a despotism" "the like of which," as 
Dollinger expresses it, " had not hitherto been known ; the new 
system as worked out by the theologians and lawyers was even 
worse than the Byzantine practice." 2 

Luther s Spirit in his Fellows 

The question concerning Melanchthon raised by Protestant 
historians, viz. whether it was he who converted Luther to 
his intolerance, or, whether, on the other hand, he himself 
was influenced by Luther, cannot, on the strength of the 
documents, be answered either affirmatively or negatively. 
In some respects Melanchthon struck out his own paths, in 
others he merely followed in Luther s wake. 3 He was by no 
means loath to making use of coercion in the case of doctrines 
differing from his own. His able pen had the doubtful merit 
of expressing in fluent language what Luther thought and 
said in private, as we see from the Memoranda still extant. 
His ill-will with the Papacy and the hostile sects within the 
new fold, was, it is true, as a rule not so blatant as Luther s ; 
he was fond of displaying in his style that moderation 
dear to the humanist ; yet we have spontaneous outbursts 
of his which sound a very harsh note and which doubtless 
were due to his old and intimate spiritual kinship with 

For instance, we have the wish he expressed, that God would 
send King Henry VIII a " valiant murderer to make an end of 
him," 4 and, again, his warm approval of Calvin s execution of 
the heretic Michael Servetus in 1554 (a " pious and memorable 
example for all posterity ") 5 . He himself wrote about that time 
a special treatise in defence of the use of the sword against those 
who spread erroneous doctrines. 6 

1 " Kirche und Kirchen," 1861, p. 68. 2 /&., p. 50 f. 
3 Above, vol. iii., pp. 358 ff., 438 ff. * /&., p. 358. 

5 lb., Cp. Paulus, ib., p. 74 f. 

6 " Corp. ref.," 10, p. 851 sqq. : " Qusestio, an politica potestas 
debeat tollere heereticos." 


With regard to Melanchthoh A. Hanel says : To Protestantism 
" religious freedom was denied at every point." When Melonch- 
tlion wrote to Calvin in praise of the execution of Sorvotus, his 
letter, according to Hanel, " wa not, as has been imagined, 
dictated by the mere passion of the moment, but was the harsh 
consequence of a harsh doctrine." 1 It must be admitted, 
remarks the Protestant theologian A. Hunzinger, " that Melanch- 
thon was wont to lose no time in having recourse to fire and sword. 
This forms a dark blot on his life. Many a man fell a victim to 
his memorandum, who certainly had no wish to destroy the 
rer/na mundi. " z 

In consequence of the precipitate and often brutal intervention 
of the authorities against real or alleged heretics Melanchthon 
had afterwards abundant reason to regret his appeal to the 
secular power. He himself, as early as Aug. 31, 1530, had fore 
told, " that, later, a far more insufferable tyranny would arise 
than had ever before been known," viz. the tyranny due to the 
interference of the Princes in whose hands the power of persecu 
tion had been laid. Hence his exclamation : "If only I could 
revive the jurisdiction of the bishops ! For I see what sort of 
Church we shall have if the ecclesiastical constitution is 
destroyed." 3 As we know, he was anxious gradually to graft 
the old ecclesiastical constitution on Luther s congregations. 

Coming from Luther and fostered by Melanchthon, these 
intolerant ideas profoundly influenced all their friends. 

Not as though there was ever any lack of opponents of the 
theory of coercion among the Protestants, or even in 
Luther s own flock. On the contrary there were some who 
had the sense of justice and the courage to resist the current 
of intolerance coming from Wittenberg. Indeed it was the 
protests which Luther encountered at Nuremberg which led 
him to emphasise his harsh demands. 

Already in 1530 Luther s follower Lazarus Spengler wrote 
from Nuremberg to Veit Dietrich begging him to seek advice of 
Luther and to request his literary help ; in the town there were 
some who opposed any measures of coercion against the divergent 
doctrines, " some of ours, who are not fanatics but are regarded 
as good Christians," desire that neither the " Sacramentarjans 
nor the Anabaptists " should be prosecuted so long as they do 
not " stir up revolt," nor yet the errors prohibited of " the 
preachers of the godless Mass and other idolatries " ; " they 
appeal on behalf of this to Dr. Luther s booklet, which he some 
while ago addressed to Duke Frederick the Elector of Saxony 

1 "Zeitschr. f. Rechtsgesch.," 8. 1869, p. 264. 

2 " Die Theol. der Gegenwart," 3, 3, 1909, p. 49. 

3 To Camerariu8, "Corp. ref.," 2, p. 334. 


against the fanatic Thomas Miinzer, in which he approves this 
view and admits it to be quite sound." 1 

At Augsburg (1533) the Lutheran lawyer, Conrad llol, siding 
with his Catholic-minded confreres Conrad I eutinger and Johann 
Rehlinger* openly and courageously denied the Town-Councils 
any rights in the matter. In 1534 Christoph Khem, a patrician 
of Augsburg, who also held Lutheran views, wrote a little work 
in which he demanded universal and unconditional toleration 
and invited the Council to place some " bridle and restraint " on 
the new preachers. 3 At that time (1536) the Lutheran preacher 
Johann Forster protested very strongly against Bucer, and 
refused to hear of the forcible suppression of Catholic worship in 
Cathedral churches outside the jurisdiction of the civic author 
ities ; he appealed in this matter to Luther. Bucer just then was 
bent on suppressing the Catholic worship with the help of the 
magistrates. Forster was finally silenced by dint of " ranting, 
raging and shouting " and was indignantly asked : " Whether 
he wished to tolerate Popery and submit to such idolatry ? "* 

At Strasburg in 1528 the Protestant Town-Clerk, Peter Butz, set 
a brave example by openly and severely condemning in the 
Council the system of coercion planned by some of the preachers. 
Against the intolerance towards sectarians advocated by Bucer, 
preachers and scholars like Anton Engelbrecht, Wolfgang 
Schultheiss, Johann Sapidus and Jacob Ziegler were not slow to 
protest, 6 though they had nothing to say against the violent 
abolition of Catholic worship. 

At Coire the preacher Johann Gantner came into conflict with 
Bullinger on account of the coercive measures favoured by the 
latter ; he reproached the inhabitants of Zurich and Berne with 
having fallen away from the freedom of the Evangel into the 
Mosaic bondage. Gantner and others, in support of their protest, 
usually appealed against the prevailing tendency to Sebastian 
Franck s " Chronica," published at Strasburg in 1531. 6 

Sebastian Franck, the witty and learned opponent of 
Luther, " after Luther himself, the best and most popular 
German prose writer of the day," took the line of pushing 
to its bitter end Luther s subjectivism. He declared that 
the new preaehers had made of Holy Scripture a paper idol 
for the benefit of their private views, and that the Lutheran 
Church was the invisible kingdom of Christ and as such 
numbered among its members men of every sect ; hence he 
argued that what was termed false doctrine and false 
worship should not be interfered with. 7 As Kawerau points 

1 M. Mayer, " Spengleriana," 1830, p. 70 fit. Paulus, ib., p. 33. 
Luther s " booklet " to which his opponents appealed is the letter of 
July, 1524, to the Saxon Princes, quoted above, vol. ii., p. 365. 

2 Paulus, ib., p. 143. 3 Ib., p. 144. * P. 156 ff. 
5 P. 166. Paulus, pp. 223, 226. 

7 Cp. Kawerau in Moller s " KG.," 3 3 , p. 471 ff. 


out, Franck found in the 1 6th century " not a few readers 
wherever dissatisfaction prevailed with the Papacy of the 
theologians " ;* nevertheless, in 1531, he was expelled from 
Strasburg on account of his liberal views ; later on, when he 
had taken up his residence at Ulm, Melanchthon wrote 
thither, in 1535, that he should be " dealt with severely" 
(" severe coercendum") no less than Schwenckfeld. 2 Driven 
from Ulm he went to Basle in 1539, but even there the echo 
of the verdict of the Wittenbergers reached him ; in March, 
1540, the theologians assembled at Schmalkalden, con 
demned him and charged him with 4 inducing people to seek 
the spirit while neglecting the Word " ; they themselves, 
they added, had broken with the Churches of the Pope 
because of their idolatry, but there was " no reason what 
ever for throwing over the ministry in our own Churches." 3 
As we have already shown, Landgrave Philip of Hesse 
was likewise disposed to be less intolerant than Luther, at 
least with regard to the Anabaptists. Relentlessly as he 
refused any public toleration to the Catholic faith and 
banished those Catholics who persisted in their religious 
practices, yet, in a letter of 1532, addressed to Elector Johann 
of Saxony, he declared himself against the execution of the 
Anabaptists ; the actual words have been quoted above 
(p. 256). In another letter, in 1545, to the Elector Johann 
Frederick, he also points out, that : "If this sect be 
punished so severely by us, then we, by our example, give 
our foes, the Papists, reason to treat us in the same way, for 
they regard us as no better than the Anabaptists." 4 

These and similar remonstrances were unavailing to 
change the views which had taken root at Wittenberg. 

George Major, Professor of theology at Wittenberg 
University, \vas a learned and zealous disciple of Luther s. 
He, like Melanchthon, on hearing of the execution of 
Servetus at Geneva, declared that Calvin was to be com- 

1 Ib., p. 474. 

2 To Martin Frecht at Ulm, " Corp. ref.," 2, p. 955. Cp. his letter 
to Buchholzer, Aug. 5, 1558, against Schwenckfeld, ib., 9, p. 579. 
Paulus, ib., p. 78. 

3 " Corp. ref.," 3, p. 983. Cp. on Franck s objections to compulsion. 
A. Hegler, " Geist und Schrift bei S. Franck," 1892, p. 260 ff. See also 
below, p. 289. 

* Wappler, " Die Stellung Kursaehsens," pp. 155, 223, 234. Paulus 
ib., p. 311. 


mended for having put to death the heretic, and, at a 
Disputation held in 1555, expressly defended the thesis, 
that it was the duty of the authorities to punish contu 
macious heretics with death. They must 4< get rid of 
blasphemers, perjurers and wizards. Amongst the blas 
phemers must, however, be reckoned those who persistently 
defend idolatrous worship, or heresies which clearly disagree 
with the articles of the faith." 1 

Luther s code of penalties for any deviation from the 
Wittenberg teaching fitted in well with Bugenhagen s 
natural harshness, who showed himself only too ready to 
make his own the words of Moses concerning the slaying of 
unbelievers. We may recall how, in conversation, when 
Luther mentioned the difficulties he had with Carlstadt, 
Agricola and Schenk, Bugenhagen broke in with the remark : 
4 Sir Doctor, we ought to do what is commanded in Deuter 
onomy where Moses says they should be put to death." 2 
Bugenhagen, in the many places into which he brought the 
new faith, was relentlessly severe in enforcing against the 
Catholics the principles he had carried with him from 
Wittenberg. Very characteristic is the tone in which he 
reported to Luther that the Mass had been forbidden in 
Denmark and the monks driven out of the land as sedition- 
mongers" and " blasphemers." 3 Not only had the bishops 
been imprisoned, but, according to the account of Peter 
Palladius the superintendent, some of the monks " had been 
hanged." 4 

Justus Jonas began his labours at Halle in 1542 by a 
written invitation to the Town-Council " completely to 
purge the town of false doctrine and every kind of idolatrous 
worship ; Luther and Melanchthon had sufficiently proved 
in their works that this " was incumbent on Christian 
magistrates." He declared that the monks still living in the 
town were "obstinate and impenitent idolaters," "adders 
and snakes " whom he " must reduce to silence with the use 
of the gag " ; already, throughout the whole neighbourhood, 

1 Paulus, ib. t p. 75. Cp. vol. iii., p. 3.58. 

3 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 274, 1542. Cp. vol. iii., p. 400. 

3 Feb. 4, 1538, to Luther and " Domini in Cfiristo et venerandi ft 
amandi," i.e. the other theologians at Wittenberg, w Brief wechsel," 11, 
p. 328 : " Parata est paulo post satis feliciter per Christum ordinatio 
ecclesiarum totius regni Danice a sereniss. refje," etc. " Per totum regnmn 
Danice regnat Christus in omnibus ecclem is," etc. 

* See vol. iii., p. 413. 


" merely at the exhortations of the preachers, the monas 
teries, with their Masses and idolatrous worship, had 
crumbled into ruins." 1 Later, in a memorandum addressed 
to the Town-Council in 1546, Jonas again inveighed against 
the remaining handful of well-disposed and zealous monks, 
and called to mind how " our beloved father, Dr. Martin, in 
the very last sermon he preached at Halle shortly before his 
decease, had exhorted the Town-Council and the whole 
Church with all his burning, stormy earnestness to rid them 
selves of the crawling things." 2 Jonas appealed to his own 
"conscience" and threatened to report matters to the 
Elector of Saxony and " his Electoral Highness s scholars at 
Wittenberg. 3 With the outbreak of the Sehmalkalden war, 
when the Electoral troops laid waste the monasteries his 
hopes at last found their fulfilment. He announced on 
March 3, 1547, that, at Halle, the " Papistic idolatry" had 
now been swept away; 4 when he wrote this he did not 
expect the change in the position of the Catholics in the 
town, for which the defeat of the Elector s troops in the 
following month was responsible. 

W T e are reminded how greatly Spalatin was imbued with 
Luther s exclusivism and spirit of intolerance by his words 
concerning the " Christian bit" which he wished placed in 
the mouths of all the clergy. 5 He was at great pains to press 
upon the sovereign that he was not to permit " unchristian 
ceremonies " and " idolatry." 6 

The Elector Johann was merely giving expression to the 
views with which Spalatin and Luther had inspired him 
when he declared that, " heretics and contemners of the 
Word " must in every instance be punished by the author 
ities. 7 His successor, Johann Frederick, likewise followed 
obediently the " Wittenberg theologians and lawyers," as 

1 See J. 0. v. Dreyhaupt, " AusfiihrlLche Beschreibung des Saal- 
Kreyses," 1, 1749, p. 982 ff. " Brief wechsel des Jonas," ed. Kawerau. 
2, p. 1. Pauhis, ib., p. 80 ff. 

2 On this sermon of Jan. 26, 1546, see below, xxxix., 3. 

3 Dreyhaupt, ib., p. 210 ff. " Briefwechsel des Jonas," 2, p. 191. 

4 To Lang the Erfurt preacher, " Briefwechsel des Jonas," 2, p. 224 : 
Halle, with the whole of its Church, had submitted to the Elector 
" heneficio altiasimi Del ... a cultu Baal, a fanis idololatriris et omni 
idoMntria tandem expurgata." * Above, p. 240 f. 

6 Ib. Cp. his letter to the Elector, Oct. 1, 1525, Kolde, " Friednch 
der Weise," 1881, p. 72. Paulus, ib.. p. 11. 

7 To Philip of Hesse, Jan. 15, 1532. Wappler. " Die Stellung Kur- 
sachsens/ p. 15f>. 


he terms his authorities. 1 lie instructed Melanchthon in 
153G to write and have printed a popular "Answer to 
sundry unchristian articles " against the Anabaptists, which 
was to be read aloud from the pulpit every third Sunday, 
and which insisted that the secular authorities were bound 
to punish " all contempt of Scripture and the outward 
Word " as " blatant blasphemy." 2 

At the Religious Conference at Worms in 1557 quite a number 
of respected Lutheran theologians (J. Brenz, J. Marbach, M. 
Diller, J. Pistorius, J. Anclrese, G. Karg, P. Eber and G. Rungius) 
signed a lengthy statement by Melanchthon aimed at the Ana 
baptists. As one of the errors of the sect is instanced their 
teaching that God communicates Himself without the inter 
mediary of the ministry, of preaching or the Sacrament. Those 
" heads and ringleaders " of the sect who persisted in their 
doctrines were "to be condemned as guilty of sedition and 
blasphemy and put to death by the sword " ; the death penalty 
prescribed in Leviticus for blasphemers was asserted to be a 
44 natural law, binding, by virtue of their office, on all in 
authority," hence 4 the judges had done the right thing " when 
they condemned to death the heretic Servetus at Geneva. 3 

Johann Brenz, who helped to promote Lutheranism in Wurtem- 
berg, had, in 1528, written and published a pamphlet in which he 
deprecated the Anabaptists being put to death 44 merely on 
account of heresy " when not guilty of sedition. 4 He was for this 
reason regarded by Melanchthon as "too mild." 5 His later 
writings, however, show that the intolerant spirit of Wittenberg 
finally seized on him too. In his treatment of Catholics both 
previous to 1528, and, even more so when the olden worship had 
been suppressed at Schwabisch-Halle and he had been called to 
Stuttgart he was in the forefront in advising violent measures 
against Catholic practices. When he reorganised the Church in 
Wiirtemberg, in 1536, after the victory of Duke Ulrich, attendance 
at the Protestant sermons was made obligatory on the Catholics 
of Stuttgart under pain of a fine, or of imprisonment in the tower 
on bread and water. 6 Brenz, though widely extolled as tolerant 
and broadminded, in his quality of spiritual adviser to Duke 
Christopher, stooped to the meanest and most petty regulations 
in order to induce the nuns who still remained faithful to their 

1 His letter of 1533, above, p. 255 f. 

2 " Verlegung," etc. (Wittenberg, 1536), Bl. A 4a, E 3a. Paulus. 
ib., p.HL 

3 " Prozess," etc.. Worms (1557). Paiilus, ib., p. 72 f. 

* " Ob eine weltliche Obrigkeit . . . moge die Wiedertaufer . . . 
riehten lassen," Marburg, 1528. Paulus, ib., p. 115, correcting Enders, 
" Brief wechsel Luthera." 

6 Melanchthon, Feb., 1530, to a friend, " Corp. ref.," 2, p. 18. 

F. L. Heyd, t4 Ulrich, Herzog zu Wiu-temberg," 3, 1844, p. 172. 
pa.ulus, ib., p. 123, 


religion many of whom were of high birth and advanced in 
years to accept the new faith ; they were compelled to attend 
the sermons and religious colloquies, deprived of their books of 
devotion, their correspondence was supervised, they had to 
entertain Protestant guests at table and to be served by Lutheran 
maids, etc. 1 

The unenviable distinction of having most thoroughly assimi 
lated Luther s intolerant views was enjoyed by two men in close 
mental kinship with him, viz. Justus Menius and Johann Spangen- 

Johann Spangenberg, an enthusiastic pupil of Luther s, and, 
later, Superintendent at Eisleben, when preacher at Nordhausen 
declared in a tract that " fear of God s wrath and His extreme 
displeasure " had rightly led the Town-Council to forbid Catholics 
to attend Catholic sermons, because, there, souls were " horribly 
murdered " ; even Nabuchodonosor and Darius had set the 
authorities an example of how "blasphemy against religion" 
was to be treated. 2 

Justus Menius, Luther s friend, who worked as superintendent 
at Eisenach and Gotha, followed Luther in qualifying the Ana 
baptists as the emissaries of the devil, as " rebels and murderers," 
who had fallen under the ban of the authorities because they did 
not " profess the true faith according to the Word of God " and 
live a " godly life." Of the authorities who were negligent in 
punishing them he exclaims : " The devil rides such rulers so 
that they sin and do what is unrighteous." Luther himself wrote 
laudatory prefaces to his works on the subject. In 1552 Menius 
demanded from Duke Albert of Prussia a severe prohibition 
against the new believers teaching or writing anything that was 
at variance with the Confession of Augsburg. When, however, 
his opponents secured the ear of the Court he had himself to 
suffer ; the ruler pointed out to him that, in accordance with his 
own theories of the supremacy of the sovereign, it was the duty 
of the authorities, by virtue of their princely office, to withstand 
false doctrine and, consequently, he himself must either submit 
or go to prison ; upon this Menius made his escape to Leipzig 
(t!558). 3 

Urban Rhegius, appointed General Superintendent by Duko 
Ernest of Brunswick-Luneburg after the Diet of Augsburg, not 
only defended in his writings a relentless system of compulsion 
whereby Catholic parents were no longer permitted even in their 
homes to instruct their children in the Catholic faith, but also 
allowed " Zwinglians and Papists to be beaten with rods and 
banished from the town." The authorities he invited to appropri- 

1 Chr. Besold, " Virginum sacrarum monimenta," etc., 1636 
p. 237 sqq. Janssen-Pastor, " Hist, of the German People " (Engl. 
trans.), 7, pp. 80-90. 

2 "Von den Worten Christi. Matt. xjii. (v, 30)," noplace, 1541, 
Bl. C 1 to D 3, Paulas, p. 92 f . 

3 Cp. P&ulns, *&.. pp. 86-91, 


ate the property of the clergy. The inglorious war he waged 
against the nuns of Liineburg, who, in spite of every kind of 
persecution, stood true to their religion, has recently been brought 
to light, and that, thanks to Protestant research ; it forms one of 
the blackest pages in the history of Lutheran intolerance. 1 

A memorial of the Strasburg preachers dating from 1535 
(printed in 1537) which might be termed the fullest and most 
complete exposition of the Royal Supremacy in church affairs 
drafted in that period, is the work of Wolfgang Capito, a preacher 
often extolled for his moderation and prudence. 2 In it we have 
the picture of a Government-Church with a " Caliph " (Dollin- 
ger s expression) at its head, who combines in himself the highest 
secular and spiritual authority. 

Martin Bucer though differing from Luther in much else 
was yet at one with him in asserting that it was the duty of 
the secular authority to abolish 4 false doctrine and per 
verted ceremonials," and that, as the sole authority, it was 
to be obeyed by " all the bishops and clergy." Though 
anxious to be regarded as considerate and peaceable, he 
defended the prohibition against Catholic sermons issued at 
Augsburg by the City-Council in 1534, and even incited it 
to still more stringent measures against the Catholics. He 
advocated quite openly " the power of the authorities over 
consciences." 3 "Among us Christians," he asks, "is 
injury and slaughter of souls by false worship of less import 
ance than the ravishing of wives and daughters ? " 4 He 
never rested until, in 1537, with the help of such hot-heads 
as Wolfgang Musculus, he brought about the entire sup 
pression of the Mass at Augsburg. At his instigation 4t many 
fine paintings, monuments and ancient works of art in the 
churches were wantonly torn, broken and smashed." 5 
Whoever refused to submit and attend public worship was 
obliged within eight days to quit the city-boundaries. 
Catholic citizens were forbidden under severe penalties to 
attend Catholic worship elsewhere, and special guards were 
stationed at the gates to prevent any such attempt. 6 

1 Cp. ib., pp. 100-115, with extracts from A. Wrede, " Die Euifuli- 
ruiig der Reformation im Lxineburgischen durch Herzog Ernst den 
Bekenner," 1887. Cp. Wrede, " Ernst cler Bekenner," 1888. 

2 " Responsio de missa, matrimonio et iure magistratus in re- 
ligionem," Argentorati, 1537. 2nd ed. 1540. Extracts from the latter 
in Paulus, p. 129 ff. 

3 C. Hagan, ib., quoted p. 153. 4 Paulus, ib., p. 155. 

6 P. v. Stetten, " Gesch. der Stadt Augsburg," 1, 1743, p. 445. 
Paulus, ib., p. 160. 


In other of the Imperial cities Bucer acted with no less 
violence and intolerance, for instance, at Ulm, where he 
supported (Ecolampadius and Ambrose Blaurer in 1531, 
and at Strasburg where he acted in concert with Capito, 
Caspar Hedio, Matthaeus Zelland others. Here, in 1529, after 
the Town-Council had prohibited. Catholic worship, the 
Councillors were requested by the preachers to help to fill 
the emptj^ churches by issuing regulations prescribing 
attendance at the sermons. Bucer adhered till his death 
(1551), as his work " De Eegno Christi" (1550) proves, to 
the principle of the rights and duties of authorities towards 
the new religion. 1 

In the above survey of those who preached religious 
intolerance only Luther s own pupils and followers have 
been considered ; the result would be even less cheering 
were the leaders of the other Protestant sects added to the 

At Zurich, Zwingli s State-Church grew up much as 
Luther s did in Germany ; (Ecolampadius at Basle and 
Zwingli s successor, Bullinger, were strong compulsionists. 
Calvin s name is even more closely bound up with the idea 
of religious absolutism, while the task of handing down to 
posterity his harsh doctrine of religious compulsion was 
undertaken by Beza in his notorious work " De hocreticis a 
civili magistrate puniendis." The annals of the Established 
Church of England were likewise at the outset written in 

The sufferings endured by the Catholics in Germany 
owing to the wave of intolerance which spread from Witten 
berg arc reflected in the countless complaints we hear at that 
time. Many writings still tell to-day of the injustice under 
which they groaned. In a " Manual of Complaint and 
Consolation for all oppressed Christians we read as follows : 
4 Oh, what a mockery it is that these tyrants and abuscrs of 
power should exclaim everywhere that their gospel is 
Christian freedom, that they have no wish to tyrannise over 
consciences when there could never have been worse tyrants 
than those men who do not scruple to go on unceasingly 
tormenting the consciences of the people, robbing them of 
the consolation of the holy sacraments of the religious 
ministrations of consecrated priests, of all their prayer-books 

1 On Bucer, cp. Paulus, ib., pp. 142-175. 


and devotional works, and, even on their death-beds, in 
spite of their piteous entreaties refusing them the Holy 
Viaticum ! " x This touching complaint is made more 
particularly in the name of those most defenceless members 
of society, who were devoid of legal protection and whose 
very poverty made emigration impossible. " All the 
iniquities committed in German lands and cities are attested 
at the Judgment-Seat of God by the souls of thousands of 
consecrated nuns, who never did wrong to anyone and who 
asked for nothing more than permission to live and die in 
their ancient faith, even though their worldly goods should 
be taken away from them and they shut up within closed 
walls." 2 

2. Luther as Judge 

It must not be overlooked that Luther s severity towards 
heretics within his fold is to be set down largely to his 
nervous irritability arising partly out of his natural tempera 
ment, partly out of his unceasing labours, so that, if we arc 
to be just to him, his conviction that his doctrine was the 
only authorised one must not be held to be entirely respon 
sible for his behaviour. At the same time it is plain how 
deeply he was affected by belief in his higher mission. Thus 
he practically made himself a religious dictator, when, in 
1542, he demanded that the Meissen nobles who had come 
over to him should not only ratify their new belief by doing 
penance, but also should " signify their approval of every 
thing which has hitherto been done by us and shall be done 
in the future." 3 

Another point on which we must also do him justice is the 
service performed by him in his controversies with rivals, in 
the field both of theology and Scripture-exegesis, by re 
pressing with such energy and general success the danger 
ous tendencies apparent in the Anabaptist heresy and the 
Antinomianism of Johann Agricola. In the attacks of the 

1 Janssen, " Hist, of the German People " (Engl. Trans.), 7, p. 91. 

3 Ib. 

8 To Anton Lauterbach, May 7, 1542, " Briefe," ed. De Wette, 5, 
p. 468. The persons in question had already frequently communicated 
under both kinds as a sign of their entry into Lutheranism, but had 
passed unfavourable criticisms on certain measures of Luther s. He 
commissions Lauterbach : " Ubi etiani pwuituerint, hoc exigendum est, 
ut hactenus a nobis gesta et in posterum gerenda probent. Alioqui quce 
crit pcenitentia, si nostra facta damnaverint hoc est sua omnia per fictam 
panitcntiam stabilicrint ? " 


Antinomians on all law, even on the Decalogue, there 
undoubtedly lay a great danger for morality and religion. 
Certain of Luther s own principles were carried to rash, nay, 
foolhardy, lengths by the Antinomians. Hence it was not 
unfortunate that Agricola found pitted against him so 
redoubtable an opponent as Luther who, as was his wont, 
interfered and nipped the evil in the bud. 

The Conceit and the Obstinacy of the "Heretics" 

Luther bitterly accuses of boundless presumption all the 
heretics within the New Faith, but particularly Agricola. 
The latter might even be classed with those doctors who 
might most fittingly be compared with Arius and treated in 
the same way. 

"Tliis man," ho says of Agricola, "is presumption itself. 
Neither with the flute nor with tears is he to be won. ... I see 
it is my goodness that puffs him up. He says he is a guiltless 
Abel. He is, forsooth, being made a martyr at my hands. ..." 
But, so Luther continues, he will be such a martyr as was Arius 
and Satan. 1 

In 1542, when the conversation at table turned on the teachers 
of the New Faith whose opinions differed from Luther s, a good 
many names were mentioned, " Those at Zurich " (Zwingli s 
pupils), Carlstadt, Bucer and Capito, " Grickel and Jeckel " 
some of them living and some of them already dead all of whom 
were insufferably presumptuous. It was then that Bugenhagen, 
who was present, could not refrain from quoting the passage in 
the Old Testament where Moses had commanded in God s name 
" That prophet shall be slain because he spoke to draw you away 
from the Lord your God. ... If thy brother would persuade 
thee (to serve other gods), thou shalt presently put him to death. 
Let thy hand be the first upon him and afterwards the hands of 
all the people. With stones shall he be stoned to death : because 
he would have withdrawn thee from the Lord thy God. If in 
one of the cities thou hear that some have withdrawn the inhabi 
tants of their city, inquire carefully and diligently the truth of 
the thing by looking well into it, and if thou find that which is said 
to be certain and that this abomination hath been committed, 
thou shalt forthwith kill the inhabitants of that city with the 
edge of the sword, and shalt destroy it and all things that are in 
it, even to the cattle." 2 

Hence it was perhaps rather lucky that the Wittenberg 
tribunal was presided over by the sovereign of the land, and that 
the sentences pronounced at Luther s table or in the learned 

1 " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 3, p. 322. 

2 Dout. xiii. 5 ff., above, p. 273. 


circles of the Theological Faculty required subsequent ratifica 
tion by the authorities. 

Luther s complaints elsewhere about the pride of the heretics 
throw still further light on the jealousy which was at work in him 
(above, p. 200). 

" How is it that all the insurgents say I am the man ? They 
want all the glory for themselves and hate and are grim with all 
others, just like the Pope who also wants to stand alone." 1 
Zwingli appears to be one of the foremost among those desirous 
of robbing him of his due glory. " He w r as ambitious through 
and through." 2 On hearing that Zwingli had said that, in three 
years, he would have France, Spain and England " on his side 
and for his share," Luther became very bitter and several times 
complained of Zwingli s intention to seize upon his harvest ; 
such words seemed to him the "boasting of a braggart." 3 
" (Ecolampadius, too, fancied himself the doctor of doctors and 
far above me, even before he had ever heard me." And in the 
same way Carlstadt said : ** As for you, Sir Doctor, I don t care 
a snap ! Miinzcr, too, preached against two Popes, the old one 
and the new, 4 said I must be a Saul, and that though I had made 
a good beginning, the Spirit of God had left me. . . . Hence let 
all the theologians and preachers look to it and diligently beware 
lest they seek their glory in Holy Scripture and in God s Word ; 
otherwise they will have a fall." 5 "Mr. Eisleben [Johann 
Agricola] labours under great pride and presumption ; he wants 
to be the only one, and, with his pride and his puffed-up spirit, 
to surpass all others." 6 " They are scamps," so he abuses them 
in another passage, " fain would they get at us and surpass us, 
as though forsooth we were blind and could not see through their 
tricks." 7 

Elsewhere in the Table-Talk we read : " My best friends," 
said Dr. Martin, with a deep sigh, " seek to stamp me under foot 
and to trouble and besmirch the Evangel ; hence I am going to 
hold a disputation." " Alas, that, in my own lifetime, I should 
see them strutting about and seeking to rule." It was with him 
as with St. Paul to whom God wished to show r how much he must 
suffer for His Name s sake (Acts ix. 16). Some indeed were trying 
to persuade him that these foes in his own household were not 
really against Luther, but only against Cruciger, Rorer, etc. But 
this was false. " For the Catechism, the Exposition of the Ten 
Commandments and the Confession of Augsburg are mine, not 
Cruciger s or Rorer s." 8 

Of those near him "Mr. Eisleben " (Agricola) seemed to him 
his chief rival ; those abroad troubled him less ; for a while 
Luther was obsessed by the idea that Agricola, " with his cool 
head, was set on securing the reins and was seeking to become a 
great lord." 9 

Of Carlstadt Luther once said, referring to the rivalry between 

1 Erl. ed., 61, p. 7, " Tischreden." 2 /&., p. 2C. 3 P. 8 f . 
4 Cp. above, vol. ii., p. 377. 5 " Werke," ib., p. 26. 

P. 30. P. 11. 8 P. 27 ff. 9 P. 31. 


the pair : " He persuaded himself that there was no more learned 
man on earth than he ; what I write that he imitates and seeks 
to copy me." After a profession of personal humility, Luther 
concludes : " And yet, by God s Grace, I am more learned than 
all the Sophists and theologians of the Schools." 1 

Though Luther never grows weary of insisting against the 
heretics at home on the c public, common doctrine, and of 
instancing the fell consequences of pride and obstinacy, even 
going so far as to predict that they will in all likelihood 
never be converted because founders of sects rarely retrace 
their steps and recant, 2 yet he never seems to have perceived 
that the point of all this might equally well have been 
turned against himself. 

The blindness of such heretics he describes in a tract of 
1526 dedicated to Queen Mary of Hungary : 

" Here we may all of us well be afraid, and particularly all 
heretics and false teachers. . . . Such a temper [obstinacy in 
sticking to one s own opinion] penetrates like water into the 
inmost recesses and like oil into the very bone, and becomes our 
daily clothing. Then it comes about that one party curses the 
other, and the doctrine of one is rank poison and malediction to 
the other, and his own doctrine nothing but blessing and salva 
tion ; this we now see among our fanatics and Papists. Then 
everything is lost. The masses are not converted ; a few, whom 
God has chosen, come right again, but the others remain under 
the curse and even regard it as a precious thing. . . . Nor have 
I ever read of heresiarchs being converted ; they remain obdurate 
in their own conceit, the oil has gone into the bone . . . and has 
become part of their nature. They allow none to find fault with 
them and brook no opposition. This is the sin against the Holy 
Ghost for which there is no forgiveness." 3 

In the same writing he describes the heretics way of speaking : 
" The heretics give themselves up to idle talk so that one hears 
of nothing but their dreams. . . . They overflow with words ; all 
evildoers tend to become garrulous. As a boiling pot foams and 
bubbles over, so they too overflow with the talk of which their 
heart is full. . . . They stand stiff upon their doctrine about 
which there is no lack of ranting." 4 

The description (which seats so well on Luther himself) pro 
ceeds : " Those are heretics and apostates who follow their own 
ideas rather than the common tradition of Christendom, who 
transgress the teaching of their fathers and separate themselves 
from the common ways and usages of the whole of Christendom, 

1 P. 14. 2 See e.g. the next quotation. 

3 Weim. ed., 19, p. 609 f . ; Erl. ed., 38, p. 445 f ., " Vier trostliche 
Psalmen . . . an die Konigyn zu Hungern." 
* Ib., p. 585-414. 


who, out of pure wantonness, invent new ways and methods 
without cause, and contrary to Holy Writ." 1 They misread the 
Word of God according to their whim and make it mean what 
they please. In short they undertake something out of the 
common and invent a belief of their own, regardless of God s 
Word. . . . God must put up with their doctrine and life as 
being alone holy and Godly." 2 

Again and again he brands pride as the cause of all heresy : 
" This is the reason ; they think much of themselves, which, 
indeed, is the cause and well-spring of all heresies, for, as 
Augustine also says, Ambition is the mother of all heresies. 
Thus Zwingli and Bucer now put forward a new doctrine. . . . 
So dangerous a thing is pride in the clergy." 3 "We cannot 
sufficiently be on our guard against this deadly vice. Vices of the 
body are gross, and we feel them to be such, but this vice can 
always deck itself out with the glory of God, as though it had 
God s Word on its side. But beneath the outward veil there is 
nothing but vain glory." 4 " Lo, here you have in brief the cause 
and ground of all idolatry, heresy, hypocrisy and error, what the 
prophets inveigh against, and what was the cause of their being 
put to death, and against which the whole of Scripture witnesses. 
It all comes from obstinacy and conceit and the ideas of natural 
reason which puffs itself up ... and fancies it knows enough, 
and can find its way for itself, etc." 5 

Such statements of Luther s are of supreme importance 
for judging of his Divine Mission. In his frame of mind 
it became at last an impossibility for him to realise that 
his hostility and intolerance towards "heretics" within 
his fold could redound on himself, or that he was contra 
dicting himself in continuing to proclaim freedom, or at 
least in continuing to make the fullest use of it himself. 
In reality he was living in a world of his own, and his mental 
state cannot be judged of by the usual standards. 

"Heretics" who cannot be sure of their Cause 

Apart from the " pride of the heretics," another idea of 
Luther s deserves attention, viz. that those teachers who 
differed from him, in their heart of hearts, knew him to be 
in the right, or at least neither were nor could be quite 
certain of their own doctrines. Of any call in their case 
there could be no question ; his call, however, was above 
doubt, seeing his certainty. Hence, in his dealings with the 

1 76., Weim. ed., 7, p. 394 ; Erl. ed., 24", p. 112. 
3 76., 19 2 , p. 273. 3 76., 38, p. 177 f. 

76., Weim. ed., 17, 1, p. 235 ; Erl. ed., 39, p. 114. 
s 76., 10 s , p. 193 f. 


" sectarians " we once again find the same strange attitude, 
as he had exhibited towards the " Papists," who, according 
to him, likewise were withstanding their own conscience and 
lacked any real call. 

To a man so full of such fiery enthusiasm for his cause 
and so dominated by his imagination as Luther, it seems to 
have been an easy task to persuade himself ever more and 
more firmly, that all his opponents doings were against 
their own conscience. 

The " teachers of faith," he says, speaking of the sectarians, 
ought first of all " to be certain about their mission. Otherwise 
all is up with them. It was this [argument] that killed (Eco- 
lampadius. He could not endure the self -accusation : How if yon 
have taught what is false ? "* Concerning (Ecolampadius Luther 
professed to know that, even in his prayers, he had been doubtful 
of his own doctrine. But, so he argues, if a man goes so far as to 
pray for the spread of his doctrine he must surely first be ** quite 
certain and not doubt thus of the Word and of his doctrine, for 
doubts and uncertainty have no place in theology, but a man 
must be certain of his case in the face of God." Before the world, 
indeed, he continues, with a strange limitation of his previous 
assertion, " it behoves one to be humble, to proceed gently and 
to say : If anyone knows better, let him say so ; to God s Word 
I will gladly yield when I am better instructed." 2 Yet, in the 
same works, where seemingly he professes such willingness to 
listen to others, he himself proclaims most emphatically his great 
mission and its exclusive character. 3 

All heretics, he once remarked, were disarmed by this one 
question : " My friend, is it the command of our Lord God [that 
you should teach thus] ? At this, one and all are struck dumb." 4 
Only by dint of lying are they able to boast of their inward 
assurance of their cause. Here we have Campanus for instance : 
" He boasts that he is as sure as sure can be of his cause and that 
it is impossible for him to be mistaken." " But he is an accursed 
lump of filth whom we ought to despise and not bother our heads 
about writing against, for this only makes him more bold, proud 
and brave. . . . Whereupon Master Philip [Melanchthon] said : 
his suggestion would be that he should be strung up on the 
gallows, and this he had written to his lord [the Elector]." 6 

With his own " certainty " Luther triumphantly confronts his 
opponents who at heart were uncertain : " Every man who speaks 
the Word of Christ is free to boast that his mouth is the mouth 
of Christ " ; such a one, confiding in his certainty, may help to 
" tear Antichrist out of men s hearts, so that his cause may no 
longer avail." 6 "But, now, the articles of pure doctrine are 

1 Mathesius, " Aufzeichii.," p. 83. 2 Erl. ed., 61, p. 17. 

3 Cp. Weim. ed., 8, p. 684 ; Erl. ed., 22, p. 56. 

4 ic Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 3, p. 321. 5 Erl. ed., 61, p. 5. 
6 /&., Weim. ed., 8, p. 683 ; Erl. ed., 22, p. 52 f. 


proved [by me] from Scripture in the clearest way, and yet it 
carries no weight with them ; never has an article of the faith 
been preached which has not more than once been attacked and 
contradicted by heretics, who, nevertheless, read the same 
Scriptures as we." 1 "In short, heretics must needs arise 
(1 Cor. xi. 19), and that cannot be stopped, for it was so even in 
the Apostles time. We are no better off than our fathers ; Christ 
Himself was persecuted." 2 "No heretic allows himself to be 
convinced. They neither see nor hear anything, like Master 
Stiff el [Michael Stiefel] ; lie saw me not nor heard me. ... It is 
forbidden to curse, swear, etc., far more to cause heresy." 3 
Then one becomes hardened against God the Holy Ghost ; these 
fanatics " do not even doubt " which is astonishing " they 
stand firm." He had warned the Anabaptist Marcus (Stiibner), 
so he relates, " to beware lest he err," to which he answered that 
" God Himself shall not dissuade me from this." 4 

In short, since Luther s own cause is so clear and certain, those 
who disagree, particularly the sectarians, must simply have 
discarded the faith. For instance, " of Master Jeckel [Jacob 
Schenk] I hold that he believes nothing." 5 He, Luther, has " at 
all times taught God s Word in all simplicity ; to this I adhere, 
and will surrender myself a prisoner to it or else become a Pope 
who believes neither in the again-rising of the dead nor in life 
everlasting." 6 Thus he sees no middle course between the most 
frivolous unbelief and the Word of God as he believes and 
interprets it. Hence, with heretics, whether among the Pope s 
men or in his own flock, " he will have nothing to do outside of 
Scripture unless indeed they start working miracles." 

Where are your Miracles ? 

The stress Luther lays on miracles as a proof of doctrine 
is another trait to add to the picture of his psychology. 
Again and again he repeated anew what he had already, in 
1524, said of Miinzer and some of the preachers : They 
must be told to corroborate their mission by signs and 
wonders, or else be forbidden to preach ; for whenever God 
wills to change the order of things He always works miracles. 7 
There is something almost tragic in the courage with which 
he appealed to miracles in this connection, when we bear 
in mind his own difficulties, in accounting for their absence 
in his own case. 8 Here it is enough to recall Hier. Weller s 
words : " I still remember right well," Weller writes, " how 
he once said that he had never thought of asking God for the 

1 Ib., II 2 , p. 267. 2 " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 3, p. 323. 
3 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 295. * 76., p. 317. 

5 76., p. 295. Erl. ed., 61, p. 21. 76.. p. 1, 

Cp. above, vol. iii., p. 153 ft . 


gift of raising the dead, or of performing other miracles, 
though he did not doubt he might have obtained such of 
God had he wished ; he had, however, preferred to be 
content with the rich gift of Scripture-interpretation ; he 
further said that he had raised two persons from the dead, 
one of them being Philip Melanchthon and the other a God 
fearing man. 1 

As against the sects and fanatics, Luther urges that he 
himself laid no claim to any extraordinary mission ; as 
they, however, did make such a claim, they must vindicate 
it by miracles. <>4 I have never preached or sought to preach 
unless I was asked and called for by men, for I cannot boast 
as they do that God has sent me from heaven without means ; 
they run of their own accord, though no one sends them, 
as Jeremias writes [xxiii. 21] ; for this reason they work 
no good." 2 Neither here nor elsewhere does he explicitly 
state by whom it is necessary to be " asked " or " called." 
His account of the source whence he derives his mission 
also varies, being now the Wittenberg magistrates, now 
his Doctor s degree, now the sovereign, now the enthusi 
astic hearers and readers of his word. 3 

Such was his confidence that Luther forgot that it was 
by no means difficult for the " false brethren " within his 
camp to pick out the weak spots in his doctrine. He refused 
to recognise that much of their criticism was valid ; on the 
negative side it even took the place of miracles. It was not 
every Catholic polemic who succeeded in demonstrating so 
clearly and convincingly the anomalies in Luther s views, 
for instance, on the Law and Gospel, as the Antinomian. 
Johann Agricola. 

On the other hand, Luther could well note with satis 
faction the inability of the heretics to bring forward any 
thing positive of importance. They were dwarfs compared 
with him. With his knowledge of the Bible it was child s 
play to him to overthrow the fanatics often ludicrous 
applications of Scripture. Of Zwingli, too, it was easy for 
him to get the better by dint of sticking to the literal sense 
of Christ s words of institution : * This is My Body." 
Luther was not slow in pointing out the blemishes of the 

1 Cp. above, vol. iii., p. 162. 

2 Letter of Aug. 21, 1524, Weim. ed., 15. p. 240 (" Brief wechs.el," 
4, p. 377 L ; " Briefe," ed. De Wette, 2, p. 538). 

* Above, vol. iii., p. 154, 


" fanatics," their vanity and blind obedience to ambition 
and self-will, and the impracticability of their fantastic, and 
often revolutionary, theories. The very truth of his 
strictures, for all his lack of miracles, raised him in his own 
eyes, far above these clumsy teachers ; this perhaps enables 
us to understand better the utter contempt he expresses 
for them. 

His Anger with Lemnius and Others 

One had but to praise those whom he condemned to call 
forth Luther s implacable anger. 

This was the experience in 1538 of the humanist, Simon 
Lemnius (Lemchen) of Wittenberg, a man otherwise kindly 
disposed to the new teaching. A humanist above all, he 
had won Melanchthon s favour on account of his talent. 

Lemnius had thoughtlessly dared to publish two books of 
epigrams in which he not only attacked with biting sarcasm 
certain Wittenberg personages, but actually ventured to praise 
Archbishop Albert of Mayence, Luther s powerful opponent. 
The poet, no doubt, was anxious to curry favour with the Arch 
bishop so as to find in him a Maecenas ; he even went so far as to 
extol him as the man who " had kept alive the olden faith." The 
censorship for which Melanchthon as Rector of the University 
was then responsible, was caught napping. Lemnius was indeed 
arrested by the University, but he escaped and fled from Witten 
berg. On Trinity Sunday, June 16th, Luther read out from the 
pulpit a Mandate in which he abused Archbishop Albert in 
disgraceful terms, and scourged as a criminal act the praise 
bestowed in the " shameful, shocking book of lies " on Bishop 
Albert, " a devil out of whom it made a saint." In it he also 
declared that, " by every code of law, and no matter whither the 
fugitive knave had fled, his head was forfeit." 1 Thus Lemnius 
was as good as outlawed though no Court of Justice had yet 
sentenced him. On July 4th Melanchthon formally expelled 
him from the University on account of " faithlessness, perjury and 
slander." 2 The "perjury" consisted in his having fled, in 
defiance of the obedience he owed to the University, HO as to 
evade the harsh penalties he had reason to apprehend. The 
whole edition of the Epigrams was destroyed. 

"It is the devil who hatches out such knaves," remarked 
Luther, " particularly among the Papists, through whom he 
attacks and thwarts us. . . . Because we preach Christ alone he 
persecutes us in every way he can." The bishops deserve to be 
called " lost and godless knaves and foes of God," hence " those 
must not be tolerated here who praise them in verse and prose."* 

1 " Briefe," 6, p. 199 f. See ahove, vol. iv., p. 292. 

2 " Corp. ref.," 3, p. 549. 

3 Erl. ed., 60, p. 318 f, " Colloq.," cd, Bindaeil, 1, p. 160 ay. 


When Lemnius had a second edition of the Epigrams printed 
at Wittenberg this also was suppressed. He had added a third 
book, devoted to abuse of Luther and containing the famous 
" Merd-Song " on Luther, who was then ailing from diarrhoea. 
Luther retorted with a " Merd-Song " of his own on Lemnius. 
His verses he read aloud to his friends and they became public 
property through being incorporated in Lauterbach s notes of 
the Table-Talk. 1 

Lemnius, whose career had been wrecked by Luther s anger 
and revenge, then wrote an " Apologia against the unjust and 
lying decree " which the Wittenberg University had published 
against him at the instigation (" itnperio et tyrannide ") of Martin 
Luther and Justus Jonas. He still retained his loose humanistic 
style after his return in 1538 to his native Switzerland, where he 
obtained a position as schoolmaster at Coire. 

The above Apologia was printed at Cologne, it would seem in 
1539, but very few copies survive owing to the energy shown in 
their suppression. It is only of recent years that the complete 
text has become generally known ; 2 till then Protestants like 
Schelhorn and Hausen had only ventured to give fragments of 
the work. In it the writer complains bitterly that Luther " has 
published a pamphlet against him [the mandate read aloud in 
the church] in which, playing both the judge and the sovereign, 
Luther had condemned and abused him." "Such authority in 
civil matters " does this soul-herd arrogate to himself. He robs 
the bishops of their secular power, but he himself is a tyrant. The 
charges against Luther s private life made in this work are 
glaring, and they come, moreover, from a man who knew his 
Wittenberg, but it must not be forgotten that he was now a bitter 
foe of Luther. 3 He goes so far as to declare that Luther s shame 
less attacks on the sovereigns, for instance on the Elector of 
Mayence, gave grounds for apprehending contempt of all 
authority and the outbreak of a war that would spell the ruin 
of Germany. 

Meanwhile " Luther sits like a dictator at Wittenberg and 
rules ; what he says must be taken as law." 4 He calls his opponent 
the "Wittenberg Pope" ("Papa Albiacus"), who had been 
faithless to his Vows. 

In order rightly to appreciate, from their psychological 
side, Luther s angry outbursts against the heretics in his 
party we must above all remember his fears of a coming 

1 See above, vol. iii., p. 234, n. 1. 

2 Ed. Const, v. Hofler, " SB. der bohm. Cesellschaft cler Wissen- 
schaften," 1892, p. 79 f. 

3 P. 123 Lemnius says the following of Luther s private life : " Dum 
ae episcopum iactitat evangelicum, qui fit, ut ille parum eobrie vivat ? 
Vino enim ciboque sese ingurgitate solet suosque adidatores et assentatorcs 
secum habet, habet suam Venerem ac fere nihil prorsns illi deesse potest, 
quod ad voluptatem ac libidinem pertinet" Cp. above, vol. iii., p. 274. 

* " Apologia," p. 136. 


collapse of theology among his following ; that he foresaw 
something of the sort has already been shown above. 1 

He was also keenly alive to the harm these dissensions 
were doing to his reputation. Nor must we forget the 
threatening and highly insulting behaviour of many of these 
heretics. Taking all things together, it is easy to understand 
how a temper such as his was lashed to fury when denounc 
ing the * presumption and foolhardiness " of his foes. 2 

" A muddled and obstinate head " sits on the neck of the 
fanatics ringleader; "his horns must be blunted." 3 " Carl- 
stadt and Zwingli behave with insolence and defiance " ; " We 
must needs decry the fanatics as damned " ; " they actually 
dare to pick holes in our doctrine ; ah, the scoundrelly rabble do 
a great injury to our Evangel even in the outland and enable our 
foes to scoff at us." 4 " Their pride and audacity will bring about 
their downfall." 5 

In truth, he says, " Carlstadt blasphemed himself to death." 4 
(Ecolampadius saw the " curse " of God fulfilled in himself, " and 
withered away with fear the night after Zwingli had been struck 
down " (at Cappel). 7 Zwingli himself, like the rest, was urged on 
merely by "his boundless ambition." 8 Egranus (Johann 
Wildenauer) was a "proud donkey." 9 Bucer is a "gossip," 10 
" a miscreant through and through, in every case, inflection and 
rule of grammar ; I trust him not at all, for Paul says [Titus iii. 
10] A man that is a heretic, after the first and second admonition, 
avoid. M11 Sebastian Franck is a "wicked, venomous knave and 
it is a wonder to me that those at Ulm care to keep him." 12 " He 
only loved to do harm, is inconstant and boasts of the spirit ; but 
his wife has plenty of spirit and it is she who inspirits him with 
her spirit." 13 Schwenckfeld deserves as little as Franck to be 
written against. " Agricola is only puffed up with hatred and 
ambition." 14 

He " is and should be called a godless man who denies God, 
which is what the Sacramentarians do. 15 " Of false brethren we 
must above all things beware." 16 With such a one " there is no 
hope of repentance; he is bold, impudent." 17 "He remains 
obdurate," he says of one of these heretics, " a cunning, evil- 
minded scoffer " ; he betrays us as " Judas betrayed Christ." 18 

The depth of the yawning abyss between the heretics and 
Luther and also the hatred they bore him on account of his 
treatment of them is plain from the words of Miinzer and 
Ickelsamer already quoted. 19 

1 See above, vol. v., pp. 169 ff., 250 ff. 

2 Erl. ed., 61, p. 16. 3 16., p. 7 f . 4 P. 8 f . 5 P. 17. 

6 Mathesius, " Tischreden," ed. Kroker, p. 249. 

7 Ib., p. 239. 8 P. 167. P. 90. 10 P. 154. P. 253 
18 P. 109. 13 P. 166. " P. 403. 16 Erl. ed., 61, p. 19 f. 

6 Ib., p. 22. 17 P. 24, 18 P. 25 Above, voj, n., p. 377, 
VI. u 


3. The Church-Unseen, its Origin and Early History 

His doctrine of the Church may in many respects be 
regarded as the key-stone and centre of the rest of Luther s 

It is practically important in that it affords a clue to 
anyone desirous of ascertaining to which of the competing 
religious bodies he should belong. It was usually to this 
article on the Church that those who afterwards returned to 
Catholicism appealed in vindication of their step. It was 
also the practice of Catholic writers, in their controversies 
with Luther, to appeal to the doctrine of the one Church 
which has never erred in dogma in order to convict him 
more speedily of the guilt of his separation. All of them 
started from the old definition, according to which the 
Church is the visible commonwealth of the faithful, founded 
by Christ on Peter, the Rock, which confesses the same 
Christian belief and unites in the same Sacraments under 
the guidance of its lawful pastors, in particular of the suc 
cessors of St. Peter. 

Luther himself was fully aware of the supreme importance 
of this doctrine ; he frequently enough brings his opponents 
on the scene " crying Church, Church!" 1 Among the 
Papists, he says, they do nothing but shriek Church, Church, 
Church, and this is the chief obstacle to reunion. 2 " Hence 
there is indeed need that we should see what the Holy 
Christian Church is. If it is the clergy and their mob, then 
the devil has won and we two, God and His Word, arc the 
losers." 3 " The Pope quotes this text [John xiv. 17 : The 
spirit of truth shall remain with you ] strongly and im 
pressively. . . . They have become so certain of their cause 
that they take their stand on it as on a wall of iron. . . . 
This we ourselves must believe and say, viz. that the Holy 
Ghost is with the Church which is certainly on earth and 
will remain." 4 But was Luther s Church a visible or an 
invisible one ? 

1 Erl. ed., 63, p. 415, in the Preface to the 2nd part of his German 
Works (compiled from his writings). Cp. vol. 28, pp. 04, 89. 

" Opp. lat. var.," 7, p. 529 (1534). 
3 Weim ed., 30, Q 4rw KV1 ~* 
* Erl. ed., 49, p 

Weim ed., 30, 3, p. 407 ; Erl. ed., 03, p. 303 (1531). 
. 163 f. 


Invisibility of Luther s Church 

Bearing in mind the religious compulsion practised by 
Luther, the question would seem already answered. His 
practice involved the existence of an outward ecclesiastical 
authority with outward rules, a congregation to which it 
was impossible to belong without submitting to the doctrine 
of a visible head or corporation. Of the visible nature of 
this Church there can be no question. It is with this tangible 
authority that he confronts the Anabaptists, for instance 
when he says : * The presumption of these fanatics is un 
bearable, for they altogether repudiate the authority of the 
Church and will have it all their own way." 1 The best- 
grounded maxims of the best teachers are despised by them, 
so he complains, and they only esteem the opinions they 
themselves have rummaged for in Scripture ! " Yet great 
heed should be paid to the Church." 2 

Nevertheless, according to Luther s own views which had 
not changed much since 1519, the Church is in reality 

The Church is not an outward, tangible institution, with a 
divinely appointed spiritual government and direction, 
such as it had been to Catholics through all the ages ; 
rather it is the ghostly congregation of true believers known 
to Christ alone, Who alone is their head, guide and teacher. 
Men holding " office " in the Church there must indeed be, 
but only in order to preach and to dispense the sacraments ; 
any spiritual authority with full powers for legislating and 
guiding the faithful is non-existent. 3 It is the "true" 
faith and the possession of the 4 right sacraments that 
constitute the Church. It is accordingly clear to him that 
the Holy Church in which we are to believe, must be a 
" ghostly, not a bodily one," " for what we believe," so he 
proceeds, " is not bodily but ghostly. The outward Roman 
Church we can all of us see, hence she cannot be the true 
Church in which we believe which is a congregation or 

1 " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 1, p. 17. 

8 " Ecclesice ratio diligenter habenda est." Ib. 

3 To Melanchthon, July 21, 1530, " Briofwechsel," 8, p. 128: a 
bishop has no ecclesiastical authority, no " poteftta.^ statnendi quidquam 
. . . quia ecclesia eat libera et domina" 


assembly of the saints in faith ; but no one can see who is a 
saint or who has the faith." This he said in his " Von dem 
Bapstum tzu Rome " (1520). l 

" The Church is altogether in the spirit," so lie again says 
in the following year, "she is altogether a spiritual thing." 2 
" Christ," so he says later, " works in the spirit so that it is 
hardly possible to smell His Church and bishops from afar, and 
the Holy Ghost behaves as though He were not there " ; but 
that Church which is so close at hand " that it is possible to lay 
hold on her," as is the case with the Popish Church, is only the 
Church of the devil. 3 " Who will show us the Church," he asks, 
" seeing that she is hidden in the spirit and is only believed in, 
just as we say : I believe in one Holy Church. " 4 " The Church 
is believed in but she is not seen, and for the most part she is 
oppressed and hidden, under weakness, crosses and scandals." 5 
In short, as a Lutheran theologian puts it, " he is speaking merely 
of a Holy Church or congregation whose real complement of 
Saints is not apparent, and which is therefore termed invisible." 6 
Nor could he speak otherwise, for the absence of a divinely 
appointed hierarchy, and likewise his principle of the free examina 
tion of Scripture, could not but lead him to assume an invisible 
Church which lives only in the hearts of those who share the 
faith and the possession of the Holy Ghost. 

Although, as the theologian in question points out, in 
Luther s idea of the Church visible elements are not lacking, 
e.g. preaching and the sacraments, yet the actual congrega 
tion of Saints is visible to God alone ; indeed the Church 
would still be there even should her only members consist of 
" babes in the cradle." 7 For instance, according to him, the 
Church before his day comprised very few people, and those 
unknown, who kept the Gospel undented and thus preserved 
the Church ; some " elect souls must needs have come back, 

1 Weim. ed., 6, p. 300 f. ; Erl. ed., 27, p. 107. Cp. ib., p. 296 f.- 
102; the Church is chiefly "inward, spiritual Christianity," though 
she, like the soul in the body, has also an external existence of a kind : 
P. 297 f. = 103 : She is governed only by Christ. " Who can tell who 
really believes or not ? " 

8 Weim. ed., 7, p. 719 : " Opp. lat, var.," 5, p. 309 (1521) : " Dicft 
autem, si ecclesia tola est in spiritu et res omnino spiritualis, nemo ergo 
nosse poterit, ubi sit ulla eius pars in toto orbe." 

3 Erl. ed., 25 2 , p. 440 (1539). 

* Weim. ed., 8, p. 419 ; " Opp. lat. var.," 6, p. 127 (1522): " Quis 
ecclesiam nobis monstrabit, quum sit occulta in Spiritu et solum credatur ? 
Ricut dicimus : Credo ecclesiam, sanctam." 

6 " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 1, p. 20. 

Kostlin, Art. Kirche, in " R.E. f. prot. Th.," 10 3 , 1901. 

7 Weim. ed., 6, p. 301 ; Erl. ed., 27, p. 108. 


at least on their death-beds, to the true path." 1 " Such 
persons [inspired by the Holy Ghost] there must always be 
on earth, even though there should only be two or three, or 
just the children. Of the old there are, alas, but few. Such 
as do not belong to this class have no right to look upon 
themselves as Christians ; nor are they to be consoled as 
though they were Christians by much talk of the forgiveness 
of sins and the Grace of Christ." 2 

Thus, in so far as the visible elements were recognised by 
Luther, Protestants are justified in teaching that Luther s 
Church-Unseen was 6 not a mere idea or empt} phantom ; 
if, however, they go on to say that, according to Luther, 
the Church is " the living sum total of all who are united in 
the Spirit, one sees at a glance that, though, mentally, we 
can make a class of all who come under the category of 
14 believers," this implies no actual relation between such, 
and consequently no "Church" or real though invisible 
society. 9 

The Marks of the Church. Gradual Disappearance of the Old 
Conception of the Church 

It is a matter of common knowledge that the marks or 
" 4 notes " of the Church had been the subject of many dis 
quisitions before Luther s day. We may now inquire 
whether Luther himself also admitted the existence of these 
44 marks," by which the true Church of Christ might be 

Though the admission of such marks seems incompatible 
with his theory of the Church-Unseen, Luther repeatedly 
seeks to prove the truth of his own Church and the falsehood 
of Catholicism by this means. Especially is this the case in 
his 4t Von den Conciliis und Kirchen " (1539). 

Thus he asks : How can " a poor, blundering man know where 
to find this holy Christian folkdom [the Church] ? For we are told 
that it is [to be found] in this life and on this earth . . . where it 

1 Cp. the passage quoted by Mohler, "Symbolik," 49, p. 427, from 
" De servo arbitrio." 

3 Erl. ed., 25 2 , p. 416. 

3 Cp. the theological doctrine of the distinction between the body 
and soul of the Church. H. Hurter, "Theol. dogm. Comp.," I 11 . 1903, 
p. 259. Tract iii., art. 2. 


will also remain till the end of time." l This leads him to speak of 
the marks of the true Church. 

" First of all the holy Christian people can be told by its having 
the Holy Word of God." Luther forgets to say how the latter is 
to be recognised, though on this all depends ; for lie was far from 
being the only one who laid claim to possessing the pure Word of 
God. Hence many were not slow in pointing out how useless it 
was on his part to say : " Where you hear or see this Word 
preached, believed, confessed and acted upon, have no doubt 
that there, assuredly, must be the true ecclesia sancta catholica, 
and the Holy Christian people, even though in number they be 
but few." 2 Nor did his theological opponents think any more 
highly of the other marks of the true Church which he sets up in 
the same work. They urged that the distinguishing marks should 
surely be clearer than what was to be distinguished, and patent 
and evident even to the unlearned. Concerning the marks set up 
by Luther, however, there was doubt even among those who had 
cut themselves adrift from Catholicism. 

For instance, the second mark was " the Sacrament of Baptism 
where it is rightly taught and believed, and administered accord 
ing to Christ s ordinance." 3 But, among the Zwinglians and 
Anabaptists, baptism, so at least they claimed, was also rightly 
administered according to the ordinance of Christ ; and, as for the 
Popish Church, Luther himself admits that she had always 
preserved baptism in its purity. Hence, here again, we have no 
clear, distinctive mark. 

The other marks, according to Luther s " Von den Conciliis," 
were, thirdly, " the Sacrament of the Altar where it is rightly 
given, believed and received according to the institution of 
Christ " ; and, fourthly, " the keys [forgiveness through faith] of 
which they make public use." " Fifthly, the Church is known 
outwardly by her consecrating or calling of ministers of the 
Church, to the offices which it is her duty to fill." Sixthly, " by 
her public prayer, praise, and thanks to God." " Seventhly, the 
Christian people is recognised outwardly by the sacred emblem 
of the holy Cross since it has to suffer misfortune and persecu 
tion, all kinds of temptation and trouble as we learn from the 
Our Father from the devil, the world and the flesh ; must be 
inwardly in pain, foolish and affrighted, and outwardly poor, 
despised, weak and sick." 4 

Bellarmine, the sharp-witted controversialist, and other 
polemics even earlier, dealt with these marks and showed their 
inadequacy. As regards the last mark Bellarmine, not un 
naturally, expressed his wonder that Luther should have spoken 
of it, seeing that inward suffering, sadness and apprehension are 
of their very nature hidden things. Luther, however, hit upon 
this mark because he was accustomed to regard his " tempta 
tions " as a witness to the truth of his doctrine, and was con 
vinced that the devil was causing them solely out of hatred for 

1 Erl. ed., 25 2 , p. 418. z Ib., p. 419. 

3 P. 420. * P. 421 ff. 


the truth. 1 He thus carried his fancied experiences 2 into his 
teaching on the Church, a fresh proof that his theology was the 
outcome rather of his inner life than of revealed doctrine. The 
idea that the Church was ever to be sick, weak, foolish and 
despised appealed to him all the more because his Evangel had not 
brought forth the good moral fruits he desiderated, and because 
he had vainly to struggle against the dissensions within his 
congregations and their abuse of the freedom of the Gospel. 

It was this experience of his which led him to the fantastic 
plan already described of forming an " assembly of earnest 
Christians," i.e. a Church-apart enrolled from the true believers 
who would then realise the idea of a Church even to the extent of 
having the power of excommunicating. 

The seven marks of the Church were reduced to two in the 
Augsburg Confession of 1530, viz. pure doctrine, and true sacra 
ments, and it is thus that they appear in the " Symbolic Books " 
of Lutheranism. On the other hand, Luther makes no appeal to 
the marks of the Church as given in the olden so-called Nicene 
Creed, " though all the olden Councils had insisted that it was 
these marks, particularly the attribute of Apostolicity, which 
distinguished the Church from the sects." 3 

As a matter of fact the marks on which Catholic theologians 
laid stress, viz. the Church s "oneness, holiness, Catholicity" and 
apostolicity furnished a striking answer to the question : Where 
is the Church ? She is Apostolic because her connection with 
the Apostles has never been broken ; Catholic because of her 
universal existence throughout the world ; holy in her aims and 
means and in the practice of Christian virtue by the generality of 
her followers, and also on account of the special gifts of grace which 
have ever brightened her path through the ages ; lastly, she 
is one, outwardly in being alone, and also inwardly, in the unity 
of her faith and belief, liturgy and sacraments, and in her 
character as a society in which a divinely appointed spiritual 
authority rules which the rest obey. In the latter respect the 
Church, to the Catholic mind, is even a " societas perfecta," 
visible, moreover, to the whole world like the " city set on a hill " 
(Matt. v. 12) in which the Fathers of the Church indeed always 
saw an image of the Church ; 4 she is as a building built upon a 
rock, as a flock gathered round the shepherd, both of them com 
parisons which we owe to the Church s Divine Founder. 

It was not without reason that Luther was averse to any appeal 
to the four marks of the Church just referred to. What unity had 
he wherewith to confront that of Catholicism under its Pope ? 
Apostolicity, as an historical union with Christ s Apostles was 
so evidently wanting in his case that he declared that the 
doctrine he had come to preach had died out shortly after 
Apostolic times. Any claim to Catholicity in the usual sense of 

1 For Bellarmine, see " Controversies," Colon., 2, 1615, 1. 3. " De 
ecclesia militante," p. 65 sq. 

2 Cp. above, p. 150 ff. 3 Bellarmine, 1. c., p. 65. 
* Hurter, "Theol. dogm. Comp.," p. 227. 


the word was not to be thought of for a moment. The only olden 
marks which he does not throw over is that of holiness. He 
here relies on the existence of holiness in the case of a few as being 
sufficient for his purpose. 

Nevertheless, due justice must be done to the stress he is ever 
disposed to lay on the holiness of the Church. He practically 
makes all the other marks to centre in this, for he speaks of the 
seven marks mentioned above as the sevenfold " sanctuary 
whereby the Holy Ghost sanctifies Christ s holy nation." 1 

" Even though it was impossible for him," remarks Johaiui 
Adam Mohler, " to teach that the Church was to be regarded as 
a living institution in which men become holy, yet he sticks fast 
to the idea that she ought by rights to be composed of saints. . . . 
The inner Church [called by theologians the "soul" to dis 
tinguish it from the outward "body " of the Church] is every 
where in evidence, and the fact that no one is a true citizen of the 
heavenly kingdom if he belongs only outwardly to the Church 
and lias not entered into the spirit of Christ and felt within him 
self its vivifying power, is pointed out [by Luther] in a way which 
merits all praise." 2 

Such true believers, according to Luther s teaching, are 
so much the sole representatives of the visible Church that 
the wicked, the unbelieving, the hypocritical Christians who 
only expose her to the scorn and derision of her foes, do not 
really belong to the Church at all. 3 They are members 
of the Church merely in name, but, in reality, are not 
Christians at all. 4 

It was not, however, easy for him to shake off the true 
feeling he had inherited from youthful days, viz. that 
whoever wished to be pious and pleasing to God, must 
become so through the true Church. " Let us therefore pray 
in the Church," so we hear him say, " let us pray with the 
Church and for her." 5 According to him the Church was 
the ghostly Eve taken from the side of Christ, a pure virgin 
and one body with Christ, great and splendid in God s sight, 
the chief of His works, dear to Him, precious and highly 
esteemed in His sight, etc. 6 Hence we find him re-echoing 
the beautiful words in which Catholic mystics had been wont 
to extol the Church and her " soul." 

1 Erl. ed., 25 2 , p. 434. 2 " Symbolik," 49, p. 424 f . 

3 Cp. " Apol. conf. August.," art. 7. Miiller-Kolde, 10 p. 153. 

4 The Church, according to his explanation of the article of the 
Creed in question, is " the assembly of the Saints, i.e. an assembly 
composed only of saints," not an assembly of all those who have been 
baptised. Cp. Kdstlin, " Luthers Theol.," 2 2 , pp. 257, 278. 

5 " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 1, p. 21. 6 Erl. ed., 66, p. 440 f. 


Yet there is no doubt, that, in spite of all this, Luther had 
explained away the Church s very essence. 

It was indeed his tendency to spiritualise, and his favourite 
idea that true believers must be enlightened by God directly 
concerning His outward " Word " that helped him thus 
to explain away the Church. As for any outward doctrinal 
establishment or institutional Church having an authority 
of her own, no such thing existed. Thus the Church which 
Luther extols as so holy turns out to be something quite 
intangible water that for want of a holder runs away and 
is lost. Even Kostlin admits this, though in guarded words : 
" Certain main problems which the Reformed view of the 
Church must necessarily face " " were only very insufficiently 
grasped and discussed " by Luther and his friends. Among 
such questions Kostlin includes some that touch the Church s 
very essence : How far is purity of doctrine necessary in 
order to belong to the Church ; how far are the old Creeds 
still professed by Protestantism obligatory or binding 
upon preachers ; where, finally, does the freedom preached 
by Luther precisely end ? x But, in spite of all the lacuna 
in his doctrine of the Church, Luther bitterly insists, that, 
outside the Church there can be no salvation. 2 Nor did he 
even admit the usual Catholic limitation, viz. that those, 
who through no fault of their own are ignorant of the 
Church, may possibly be saved if their life has been other 
wise good. Luther indeed, as already shown (p. 292), is of 
opinion that some olden Catholics may have been saved, if, 
in the end, they laid hold 011 Christ as Luther taught; 3 he 
also opines that salvation had been brought to all " worthy 
men of every nation " who had died before the coming of 
Christ, through His preaching during His visit to Limbo ; 4 
yet he does not believe that it was the Will of God that all 
men, whether within or outside the Church, should be saved. 5 

After having in the above examined Luther s conception 
of the Church, irrespective of its mode of growth, we may 
now turn our attention to the genesis and historical develop 
ment of this conception. 

1 Art. " Kirche," in " RE. f. prot. Th.," 10 3 , 1901, pp. 337, 349. 

2 Cp. Kdstlin, " Luthers Theol.," 2 2 , p. 262, with the quotation 
from Erl. ed., 9 2 , p. 285 f. : " In her each one must be found, in her 
each one must be enrolled, whoso wishes to be saved and to come to 
God, and, outside of her, no one will be saved." 

3 Kostlin, ib., p. 269. * I6./p. 169. 
6 See above, vol. ii., pp. 267 f., 287 f. 


Origin and Early Outbuilding of the New Idea 
of the Church 

A curious psychological process accompanies the growth 
of Luther s idea of the Church. We know that, even long 
after he had fallen a victim to his theory of justification by 
faith alone, he had still no thought of breaking away from 
the Church s communion or of questioning the conception 
then in vogue of the Church. It was only when the olden 
Church refused to come over to his new doctrine and 
prepared to condemn it, that he decided, after great struggles 
within, to cut himself adrift, and it was in order to justify 
this step to himself and to vindicate it to the world that he 
gradually formed his new views on the Church. (Cp. above, 
vol. i., p. 3*21 ff.) ^ 

Characteristically enough we find a first trace of what was to 
come, in his sermon on the power of the Papal Ban, which lie 
published in Latin in 1518 and in German in the following year. 
Here, of course, lie had to deal with the question of the effects of 
the threatened excommunication ; in so doing he reached the 
false proposition, censured amongst his 41 errors in the Bull 
Exsurge Domine of May 16, 1520 : " Excommunications are 
merely outward penalties and do not rob a man of the Church s 
common spiritual prayers." 1 Not long after, according to his 
wont, he went a step further. Among the condemned Theses we 
find the paradoxical one : " Christians must be taught to love 
excommunication rather than to fear it." 2 

At Dresden on July 25, 1518, when he was found fault with 011 
account of his Wittenberg Sermon on Excommunication (which 
was then probably not yet known in its entirety), he seems to 
have shown scant respect for the supreme authority in the Church . 
Emser, his then opponent, writes expressly that Luther had 
declared he cared nothing for the Pope s Ban. 3 

Some weeks later, on Sep. 1, Luther himself wrote to Staupitz, 
his superior, that his conscience told him he was in the right and 
with the truth on his side ; " Christ liveth and reigneth yesterday, 
to-day and for ever" ; he also tells him, that, in his " Resolu 
tions," and in his replies to Prierias he had spoken freely, and 
in a language that would wound the Romanists, and that lie 
was ready, nay anxious, to give the brassy Romans an even 
ruder German answer in the service of Christ, the Shepherd 
of the people. " Have no fear ; I shall continue untrammelled 
my study of the Word of God without any fear of the citation 
[to Augsburg]." 4 

1 Prop. 23. 2 Prop. 24. 

3 See above vol. i., p. 371. * " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 224. 


During the negotiations in the presence of Cajetan at Augsburg 
we can see even more clearly how Luther stood under the spell of 
his idea, that the only Church was a spiritual one, and that, even 
should he break away from ecclesiastical authority by rising 
against the Ban, he would still remain in this Church. 

It was after his return from Augsburg, during the stormy days 
when he appealed " from the Pope to a General Christian Council," 
i.e. in the winter of 1518, that he discovered the true " Anti 
christ " who reigned at Rome. 1 This discovery deprived him of 
the last vestige of respect for the authority of the Church and for 
her head. 2 His own inward state when he made this discovery 
was one of curious turmoil. In his letter to Link, of Dec. 11, 15,18, 
we hear him speaking of his commotion of mind, of new projects 
just on the point of birth which would show that, so far, he had 
hardly made a serious beginning with the struggle ; he had a 
k premonition " then that Antichrist described by St. Paul 
(2 Thes. ii. 3ff.) was seated in Rome where lie behaved even 
worse than the Turk. 3 At the beginning of 1519 with bated 
breath he announced to his friends the impending war on all the 
Papal ordinances. 4 

Thus, even previous to the Leipzig Disputation, he must have 
busied himself with his new idea of the Church. 

It was, however, only during the Disputation that, pressed 
hard by Eck, he was induced to deny openly the Primacy and to 
proclaim his belief in an invisible Church controlled by no 
authority. 5 In the Disputation on July 4 and the following days, 
he attacked the divine institution of the Pope s authority, 
asserted that even (Ecumenical Councils could err, and, on 
July 6, declared that the Council of Constance had actually 
done so in rejecting the doctrine of Hus that there is " a Holy 
Catholic Church which is the whole body of the elect." 

In thus cutting the idea of the Church to his own measure, 
Luther had reached the Husite theory of the predestined as 
the sole members of the Church. " Luther found in this his 
own view of the Church, for, according to him, on the one 
hand there was no need of submission to Rome, and, on the 
other, only the real Christians and the elect were actual 

1 See above, vol. iii., p. 143 ft. 

2 And yet he declares later (" Colloq.," ed Bindseil, 1, p. 15) that ho 
would gladly have acknowledged the Pope ( i.e. sacrificed his doctrine 
of the Church) " modo evangelium docuisset," i.e. if the Pope had agreed 
to his doctrine of Justification. Indeed at the end of Feb., 1519, he 
says, in the " Unterricht auff etlich Artikell " (see below, p. 307) " for 
no kind of sin or abuse " is it lawful to begin a schism. Weim. ed., 2, 
p. 72 : Erl. ed., 24 2 , p. 10. Cp. W. Walther, " Fur Luther," 1906, p. 20. 

3 " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 316. 

* To Spalatin, Jan. 14, 1519, " Briefwechsel," 1, p. 352 ; he adds : 
" Non ligat nee nocet ira Decretalium, quando tuetur misericordia 

5 Weim. ed., 2, p. 183 ft . " Opp. lat. var.," 3, p. 296 sqq. 


members of the Church. 5 1 In the " Resolutions," which he 
published at the end of August immediately after the 
Disputation, he adheres to the statement that even (Ecu 
menical Councils had erred and that, even on the most 
important questions of the faith. Still, strange to say, he 
does not think there is any reason for fearing that the 
Church had been forsaken by the Spirit of Christ, for by 
the Church was to be understood neither the Pope nor a 
Council. 2 Here we have the basis of his new idea of the 
Church. ... It is combined with another idea towards 
which he had long been drifting, viz. of seeing in Holy 
Scripture the sole source of faith. 3 In the " Resolutions " 
he says : " Faith does not spring from any external authority 
but is aroused in the heart by the Holy Ghost, though 
man is moved thereto by the Word and by example." 4 
Wherever Luther s doctrine is believed, there is the Church. 5 
The Papal Bull of 1520 condemned among the other 
selected theses of Luther s, his attack on the Primacy and 
the Councils, though saying nothing of his doctrine of the 
Church, then still in process of growth. " The Roman Pope, 
the successor of Peter," so the 25th of these condemned 
Theses runs, " is not the Vicar of Christ set over all the 
Churches throughout the whole world and appointed by 
Christ Himself in the person of St. Peter." And the 29th 
declares : " It is open to us to set aside the Councils, freely 
to question their actions and judge their decrees and to 
profess with all confidence whatever appears to be the truth 
whether it has been approved or reproved of any Council." 6 

1 Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 250. Other statements made by Luther 
at this time must be read in the light of the above theory, e.g. his words 
ill the "Comm. on Gal." : "As widely, broadly, and deeply as possible 
do I distinguish between the Roman Church and the Roman Curia." 
" They must know that they are mistaken when they cry out that I do 
not hold with the Roman Church ; I who love so truly not only the 
Roman Church but the whole Church of Christ." " Comm. on Gal.," ed. 
Irmischer, 3, p. 134 aq. Cp. W. Walther, " Fur Luther," 1906, p. 24. 

2 Weim. ed., 2, pp. 399, 404 ft 1 ., 427, 429 ; " Opp. lat. var.," 3, 
pp. 240, 244 sqq., 281, 284. Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 255 ff . 

3 For his earlier days cp. the passage in " Freiheyt dess Sermons 
Bepstlichen Ablass belangend " (1518), Weim. ed.,1, p. 384 ; Erl. ed., 
27, p. 12 : "If already so many and thousands more, and all of them 
holy Doctors had held this or that, yet they are of 110 account as 
compared witli a single verse of Holy Writ, as St. Paul says, Gal. (i. 8) : 
Even though an angel from heaven, etc." 

* Weim. ed., 2, p. 431 ; " Opp. lat. var.," 3, p. 287. 

5 Ib., p. 183ff. = 296*^. (Thesis 13). 

6 Denzinger-Bannwart, " Enchiridion," p. 259. 


The originator of principles so subversive to all ecclesi 
astical order had perforce to reassure himself by claiming 
freedom in the interpretation of Scripture. 

Hence, for himself and all who chose to follow him, he set 
up in the clearest and most decided terms the personal 
reading of the written Word of God, above all tradition and 
all the pronouncements of the teaching office of the Church : 
in this he went much further than he had done hitherto in 
the questions he had raised concerning justification, grace, 
indulgences, etc. It is easy to understand why it was so 
necessary for him to claim for himself a direct enlightenment 
by the Spirit of God in his reading of the Bible ; l in no 
other way could he vindicate his daring in thus setting him 
self in opposition to a Church with a history of 1500 years. 
At the same time he saw that this same gift of illumination 
would have to be allowed to others, hence he declared 
that all faithful and devout readers of the Bible enjoyed 
a certain kind of inspiration, all according to him being 
directly guided by the Spirit into the truth without any 
outward interference of Church doctrine, though the first 
fruits of revelation belonged to him alone. 2 

By thus exalting the personal element into a principle, 
he dealt a mortal blow at the idea of a Church to whom was 
committed the true interpretation of doctrine. 

Before pointing out, how, in spite of the boundless liberty 
proclaimed by Luther, he nevertheless was anxious to 
retain some sort of Church in the stead of the ancient one, 
we may here put on record certain statements of his on the 
illumination of the individual by God that have not as yet 
been quoted ; albeit difficult to understand this is of the 
very essence of Lutheranism and quite indispensable to the 
new doctrine of an invisible Church. 3 

According to the " Resolutions " he published after the 
Leipzig Disputation, every man is born into the faith through 
the Evangel owing to the bestowal of certainty from on higli 
without the intervention of the Church s authority or of any 
doctrine outwardly binding upon him. Satan and all the 
heretics, so he declares, could not have forged a more dangerous 
opinion than that in vogue among Catholics concerning the 
relations between the Church s authority and the Bible Word ; 

1 Cp. M5hler, " Symbolik," 44, p. 399. 

2 Cp. above, vol. iv., p. 387 ff. and vol, ii., p. 3G8. 

3 Above, p. 237. 


needless to say Luther makes out that, in their opinion, the Popo 
was put above the Written Word and even above God Himself. 1 
The genuine Catholic doctrine, viz. that the Church is the 
guardian of the true sense of Holy Scripture arid at the same tinio 
a witness to the faithful of the authenticity and inspiration of the 
Holy Books, is indeed poles asunder from the teaching foisted <>n 
her. Moreover, it is in these very Resolutions to the Leipzig 
Disputation that Luther disparages the .Epistle of James, arguing 
that its style falls far short of the apostolic dignity and could in 
no way compare with that of Paul. Here the " freedom " which 
he exalts into a principle already begins to undermine his new 
foundation, viz. the Bible itself. 

Not long after this, in 1520, he lays claim in his " Von dem 
Bapstum " and " De captivitate Babylonica," to having been 
instructed solely by the Holy Ghost and out of the Bible regarding 
the sense of Holy Scripture. 

In the " De captivitate Babylonica " he teaches : the faithful who 
surrender themselves to the Spirit of God and allow Him to work 
upon them through the " Word " (he calls them the Church), 
received from the same Spirit an infallible sense and an inspiration 
by which to judge of doctrine, a sense which is indeed not 
susceptible of proof yet which creates absolute certainty. The 
same thing held good here as in the case of the truth, of which 
Augustine had said, that the soul was so laid hold of and carried 
away by it as to be enabled by its means to judge of all things, 
though unable to prove the truth itself which nevertheless it was 
forced to acknowledge with an infallible certainty. 2 Luther also 
appeals as a comparison to the evidence of certain fundamental 
truths of mathematics or philosophy. This would at first sight 
make it appear as though he excluded arbitrary freedom in the 
interpretation of the Bible, since the mind must necessarily bow 
to such logical and unquestionable truths as he instances ; this is, 
however, not the case, and we may recall what a wide field he 
opened up for delusion in this matter of inspiration. 3 

When he teaches that the perception of the truth of religion 
penetrates into every Christian soul as the direct result of a 
certainty operated by God Himself we must, in order to under 
stand him, keep in view the other points of his teaching, above 
all his opinion of man s utter incapacity to do what is good, the 
depravity of man s mental powers, his lack of free-will and absolute 
passivity under the hand of God. Above all he needed some 
such theory in order to justify his attack on the olden conception 
of the Church and to defend his own alleged certainty. 

The universal priesthood also serves him as a prop for his 
idea of the Church. This priesthood, with the right to judge of 

1 Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 256, from Weim. ed., 2, p. 430 ; " Opp. 
lat. var.," 2, p. 285. 

2 Cp. Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 340. Augustine, however, is speaking 
of truth in general. 

3 See above, vol. iv., p. 403 ft 1 . 


doctrine, such as he pictures in his " To the German Nobility " and 
"On the Freedom of a Christian Man," was a logical outcome of 
the above doctrine of inspiration and of his own inclination to 
break away from the olden Church. It gave to all complete 
independence in spiritual and ecclesiastical matters. 1 

The above writings were followed in 1521 by his " Ad librani 
Ambrosii Catha-rini Re&ponaio." Here lie treats in detail of the 
Church, and of Christ the spiritual and invisible rock on which 
alone she is built (without Peter and his successors) ; the Church s 
nature is therefore spiritual and invisible ; he emphasises anew 
the right of all the faithful individually to disregard all teaching 
authority and to give ear to the voice of the Holy Ghost Who 
speaks inwardly through the Evangel, and thus brings forth, 
nourishes, educates, strengthens and preserves the true Church. 
In this work Luther is, however, already at greater pains to bring 
down the Church to the region of the visible ; he points out that at 
least she possesses visible elements, Baptism, the Supper and the 
Gospel. Nevertheless, direct inspiration of the Holy Ghost still 
looms large in the " Responsio " as we may gather from the 
elucubrations embellished with Bible texts in which he declares 
that the Papal Antichrist had been foretold in the Word of God 
and his appearance and workings even described in detail. 2 

In "Von Menschen leren tzu meyden " (1522), which is still 
saturated with the spirit of the Wartburg he had just left, he 
insists that : " Each one must simply believe that it is God s 
Word because he feels in his heart that it is the truth, even 
should an angel from heaven or all the world preach the con 
trary." His writing of 1523, " Das eyn Christliche Versamlung 
odder Gemeyne Recht und Macht habe alle Lere zu urteylen," 
etc., was intended to promote unfettered freedom of spirit, but, 
of course, only in the interests of the removal of the Popish - 
minded clergy, for, naturally, there could be no question of such 
freedom being used against Luther, or of anyone setting himself 
up as judge of Luther s new doctrine. Here, and even more 
strongly in the " De instituendis ministris Ecclesice," which he 
published in the same year, he starts again from the standpoint 
of the universal priesthood ; this was inconsistent with the 
clerical order of the Popish Church ; by it every man was 
qualified to decide independently on doctrine in accordance with 
Scripture ; but whoever preached openly in the Church of God 
only did so as representing the others and at their request ; 
hence no preacher was to be at the head of any congregation 
unless the latter wanted him, and, taught by the unction of the 
Holy Spirit, found his doctrine right. A Christian might also, so 
he continues, whether amongst other Christians or amongst those 

1 Cp. Mohler, " Symbolik," 46, p. 409, with the following quotation 
from Luther s " De captiv. Babylon." : " Christianis nihil nullo iure 
posse imponi legum, sive ab hominibus, sive ab angelis, nisi quantum 
volunt ; liber i enim sumus ab omnibus." 

2 Cp. Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 398. Tho work is printed in Weim. ed., 
7, p. 704 ft ; k Opp. lat. var.," 5, p. 286 sqg. 


who had formerly been unbelievers, instruct his fellow-men in 
the Gospel merely by virtue of his Christian calling ; anyone, if he 
detected the ordinary teacher in error, might stand up and teach 
without any call, as the Apostle says (1 Cor. xiv. 30) " if anything 
be revealed to another, let the first hold his peace." 1 

But how is a man to be so certain in his heart as to be able 
to come forward in this way ? " You can then be certain of the 
matter if you are able to decide freely and surely and to say this 
is the pure and simple truth, for it I will live or die, and whoever 
teaches otherwise, whatsoever be his title and standing, is 
accursed." 2 

It would be a waste of words to point out that this was 
to deal a death-blow at the olden conception of the Church. 

Startling, nay, utterly stupefying, is the sharp contrast all 
this presents to Luther s later attitude already described 
above (pp. 241, 251, 262). There we have a rigid, coercive 
Church held fast in the ban of the Wittenberg doctrine, 
whereas here, in the days of the early development of 
Lutheranism, we find an exuberant wealth of individual 
freedom which scoffs even at the possibility of any ecclesi 
astical order. 

Only a dreamer and hot-head like Luther could have seen 
in such an individualism, where each one is teacher and 
priest, anything else than chaos. 

Luther s expectations in those early days were strange indeed 
and quite incapable of realisation ; not only were all delusions 
to be excluded but everything, as he says of the enduring of 
opposition, was to be done " decently and piously " ! If he is 
really speaking in earnest, then he shows himself a hermit utterly 
ignorant of human nature. And yet even in the seclusion of the 
convent walls, the greatest enthusiast should have seen that 
this was not the way to form a congregation on earth of believers, 
or anything resembling a Church. 

We can, nevertheless, easily understand, to cite Mohler in 
confirmation of what has been said, " how the doctrine in 
question could, nay, had to, arise in Luther s mind : Since the 
authority of the existing Church was against him he had perforce 
to seek for support in the authority of God working directly in 
him. . . . He saw no other way than to appeal to an intangible, 
inward authorisation." 3 This he then proceeded to work out 

1 Weim. ed., 12, p. 169 ff. ; " Opp. lat. var.," 6, p. 494 sqq. 

8 Cp. the passages quoted by Mohler, " Symbolik," 45, p. 405, n. 2 : 
" Christianus ita certus est, quid credere et non credere debeat, ut etiam pro 
ipao moriatur, aut saltern mori paratus sit." Thus to teach as a priest 
involved nothing very dreadful, " cum verbum Dei hie luceat et iubeat, 
simul necessitas animarum coyat." 

9 " Symbolik," 45, p. 409, 


into a system for the other believers. In the fashion of the true 
demagogue he flatters every Cliristian and invests him with tiuch 
perfection as any unprejudiced mind must repudiate on the most 
cursory glance into his own heart." 1 

The truth is, the doctrine put forward by Luther against the 
Church, i.e. that Holy Scripture is the sole judge, has no meaning 
except on the assumption of a certainty through direct divine 

Luther was quite right in declaring Holy Scripture to be the 
source of the doctrine of salvation ; but it was a very different 
thing to assert that Holy Writ is the judge which determines what 
is the doctrine of salvation contained therein. He only readied 
the latter assertion by taking for granted the direct action of God 
in man for imparting a knowledge of the true sense of Scripture. 
Hence in his statements on Holy Scripture we frequently find 
one thing strangely confused with the other, the outward Book 
with the inward knowledge of the same, so that, as Mohler puts it, 
" the direct transmission of its contents to the reader is assumed 
in a quite childish fashion." 2 Even Kdstlin has to admit this 
confusion, though he does so with reserve : " In Luther," he 
says, " we see in many passages an intermingling of the pure 
Word and pure doctrine." 3 

Luther s Later Attitude Towards the Idea of the Church. 

Henceforward there remained deeply rooted in Luther s mind 
the conviction that the individual was taught by God and that 
this Divine enlightenment was always leading to the adoption of 
his own chief articles of faith and to the promotion of the Lutheran 

There is no call to follow up this idea through all his various 
writings. We may, however, call to mind a remarkable arid 
warlike statement with which, towards the end of his life, he 
sought to justify his attacks on the Pope and the ancient 
Church, and that, too, at a time when he mast long since have 
been disappointed at the results of the freedom of judging 
which he had once allowed but had now already in many ways 

In his " Wider das Bapstum vom Teuffel gestifft," he quotes 
the words of Christ which refer to prayer in common : " Where 
two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the 
midst of them." This leads him to conclude, strange to say, 
" that even two or three gathered together in Christ s name hold 
all the power of St. Peter and all the Apostles." And, at once, 
he proceeds in his old vein to declare that two or three, nay, even 
a single one, who has been enlightened by Christ, is as good a 

1 lb., 45, p. 406. Ib., 44, p. 399. 

:1 Art. Kircbe, " RE. f. prot. Th.," 10 3 , p. 337. 
* (> Mohler, " Symbolik," 49, p. 42". 



teacher as the whole Church, and, indeed, in certain cases, even 
takes precedence of her. " Hence it comes," he says, " that, 
often, a man who believes in Christ has withstood a whole crowd 
... as the prophets withstood the Kings of Israel, the priests 
and the whole nation [to say nothing of Luther himself who had 
withstood the whole Church]. In short, God will not be bound as 
to numbers, greatness, height, power, or anything personal to 
man, but will only be with those who love and keep His Word 
even though they be no more than stable boys. What does He 
care for high, great and mighty lords ? He alone is the greatest, 
highest and mightiest." 1 Thus he practically claims a Divine 
dignity for an undertaking such as his, and paints his career afresh 
as that of a prophet who had a right to exalt himself even over 
the topmost hierarchy ; only that he invests all the faithful, and 
even the " stable boy," with the like high calling. 

But, in such a sj^stem, what place was there left for any 
thing more than a phantom Church ? Obviously the Church 
had to withdraw into the region of the invisible. For her 
again to become visible and assume the shape to be con 
sidered below, seems almost a paradox. 

In view of the elasticity and vagueness of Luther s teach 
ing on the Church it is not surprising that his followers, to 
this very day, are divided as to whether, in point of fact, 
Luther wanted a " Church " or not. 

A well-known Lutheran theologian admits in plain language 
that Luther left the problem of the Church unsolved ; only after 
the Reformer s time did certain " important problems " arise in 
respect of Luther s tentative definition of the Church. 2 Another 
theologian, writing in a Protestant periodical, says that Luther 
left behind him no " Evangelical Church." " The Reformation," 
lie says, " spelt Christendom s deliverance from the Church. . . . 
His great anticlerical bias was never repudiated by Luther. . . . 
He committed the care of the pure Evangel to the hands of the 
civil authorities. It ought no longer to be disputed that Luther 
and the Reformers were not the founders of the Evangelical 
Church and that their ideal Protestantism was one minus a 
Church. It is only necessary to take the idea of the Church in its 
strict sense not as the congregation, or the people of God, nor 
yet as a body of men holding the same opinions, nor as the 
kingdom of Christ but as an independent complexus of regula 
tions ordering the religious life, as a special iastitution to provide 
for the particular needs of the religious commonwealth within 
traditional limits." Hence " the fact that, in our homeland, 
three hundred years after Luther s time, we find the Evan- 

1 Erl. ed., 26 2 , p. 188. 

8 Koatlin in the "RE. f. prot. Th.," 7 2 , p. 71 f>. Omitted in the 


gelical preacherdom firmly consolidated in a body not unlike 
the State, and professing to be the official representative of 
Protestantism is one of the most astounding paradoxes in all 
the history of the Church." 1 

There is no need to go so far, nor is it really necessary to put 
the words evangelical " Church " or " Churches " in inverted 
commas, as Protestants sometimes do in order to mark the quite 
unusual meaning of the word Church according to Luther s view. 
It is obvious that logic had no place in Luther s ideas and aims 
in respect of the Church, and his subjectivism imposed on him in 
this matter the utmost vagueness. 

Frequently we find in Catholic works on dogma extracts 
from Luther s writings dating from 1519 and 1520, which, 
it is alleged, show his positive conviction at that time that a 
Church i.e. one in the olden Catholic sense was to be 
recognised. But this is a mistake. The documents contain 
ing such utterances were of a diplomatic character, and we 
have no right to build upon them. They do not in any way 
invalidate what has been said above. 

One of these is Luther s " Unterricht auff etlich Artikell," 
dating from the end of Feb., 1519, i.e. from a time when he had 
already discovered the Roman Antichrist ; 2 the other, his " Oblatio 
sive Protestatio," dating from the summer of 1520, is a tract un 
mistakably intended to forestall the publication of the Roman 
Bull. 3 In the first work, composed at the instance of Miltitz, it is 
true he says in praise of the Roman Church that, in her, " St. 
Peter and St. Paul, 46 Popes and many hundred thousand 
martyrs had shed their blood," that she was honoured by God 
above all others, and that, for the sake of Christian charity and 
unity, it was not lawful to separate from her for all her present 
blemishes ; he will not, however, express himself regarding the 
" authority and supremacy of the Roman Church," " seeing that 
this does not concern the salvation of souls " ; Christ, on the 
contrary, had founded His Church on charity, meekness and 
oneness, and, for the sake of this oneness, the Papal commands 
ought to be obeyed. By this he fancies that he has proved that 
he " does not wish to detract from the Roman Church." 4 

What he says in the other writing referred to above is even 
less acceptable, though here too he wishes to appear "as a 
submissive and obedient son of the Holy Christian Churches." 4 
The circumstance that many shortsighted persons doubtless took 
him at his word at this critical time of his excommunication must 
have served powerfully to promote the apostasy. 

1 " Christl. Welt," ed. Rade, 1, 1902, No. 38. 

2 Weim. ed., 2, p. 69 ff ; Erl. ed., 24 2 , p. 5 ff. 
;l /&., 6, p. 477 ft. ; 9, p. 302 ft. -12 ff. 

4 //>., 2, p. 72f. = 24 2 , p. 10 f. 

J lb., 6, p. 480 -24 2 , p. 13. Cp. Weim. ed., G, p. 303 L ; 9, p. 47fi t, 


As to the changes to which Luther s mode of thought was 
liable, we may perhaps be permitted to make a general observa 
tion before passing from the consideration of the invisible Church 
to that of the Church visible. 

The charge brought against him of having formerly taught 
differently on many points from what he did at a later date, 
Luther lightly swept aside with the assurance that he had gone on 
gradually advancing in the knowledge of the truth. His defenders 
seek to escape the difficulty in a like way. His changeableness 
and inconstancy must undoubtedly weigh heavily in the balance. 
We must not, however, be unfair to him or argue that the fact of 
his having at first defended elements of Catholic doctrine which 
he afterwards abandoned constituted a grave self-contradiction. 

Luther openly admits that it was only gradually that he came 
to attack the Church so bitterly. 

When King Henry VIII reproached him with the contra 
dictions apparent between his earlier and later teaching on the 
Papacy and the Church, Luther boldly appealed in 1522 in his 
" Contra, Henricum regent Anglice " to his having only gradually 
learnt the whole truth : "I did not yet know that the Papacy 
was contrary to Scripture. ... God had then given me a 
cheerful spirit that suffered itself to be despised [by his oppo 
nents]. . . . By dint of so doing they forced me on, so that the 
further I went the more lies I discovered . . . until it became 
plain from Scripture, thanks to God s Grace, that the Papacy, 
episcopacy, foundations, cloisters, universities, together with all 
the monkery, nunnery, Masses, services were nothing but dam 
nable sects of the devil. . . . Hence it came about that I had to 
write other books in condemnation and retractation of my earlier 
ones." 1 He will also, so he adds ironically, retract what he had 
previously said in his " De captivitate Babylonica," viz. that the 
Papacy was the prey of a strong Nimrod, as this had scandalised 
the lying King of England, who was himself the robber of his 
country. This, in his own style, he now proposes to amend as 
follows : "I should have said : The Papacy is the arch-devil s 
most poisonous abomination hitherto seen on earth." 2 

If it was a difficult matter to give an account of Luther s 
invisible Church, owing to the changes which took place in his 
own views, even more difficult is the task of tracing the 
further growth of his teaching. His invisible Church 
becomes more and more clearly a visible Church ; yet all the 
while it protests, that, in its nature, it is invisible. 

1 //>., 10, 2. p. 232 r-2S. p. 3r.o. 
lb., p. 232-351, 


4. The Church becomes visible. Its organisation 

What was Luther s view of the Church s character when 
the time came to set up new congregations within the circle 
of the " Evangel " ? 

Theologically the question is answered in the authentic 
publicly accepted explanations he gave of his doctrine on the 
Church. Of these the oldest is comprised in the Schwabach 
Articles of 1529, * where we read in Article XII : 

There is "no doubt that there is and ever will be on 
earth a holy Christian Church until the end of the world, as 
Christ says in Matt, xxviii. 20. ... This Church is nothing 
else than the believers in Christ, who hold, believe and 
teach the above-mentioned articles and provisions [of the 
Schwabach Confession], and who, on this account, are 
persecuted and tormented in the world. For where the 
Gospel is preached and the sacraments rightly used, there is 
the holy Christian Church, bound by no laws and outward 
pomp to place or time, persons or ceremonies." " Thus did 
the Evangelical idea of the Church," so we read in Kostlin- 
Kawerau, "find expression once and for all in the funda 
mental confessions of Protestantism, faith in Christ being 
identified with faith in the said articles and provisions. " 2 

In the "Augsburg Confession" of 1530 "which Confession," 
according to Luther, " was to last till the end of the world and 
the Last Judgment " 3 we read : " The Church is the mateship 
of the saints ( congregatio sanctorum ) in which the Evangel is 
rightly taught and the sacraments rightly dispensed." 4 The 
" Apologia " to this Confession contains the following : " The 
Church is not merely a commonwealth of outward things and 
rites like other institutions, but it is rather a society of hearts in 
faith and the Holy Ghost. She has, however, outward signs by 
which she may be known, viz. the pure doctrine of the Gospel and 
a dispensing of the sacraments in accordance with Christ s 
Gospel." 6 Of "Church government" the Confession of Augs 
burg states : " Concerning the government of the Church we 
hold that no one may teach publicly or dispense the sacraments 
without being duly called " ; this is further explained in tho 

1 Weim. ed., 30, 3, p. 86 ff. ; Erl. ed., 24 3 , p. 337 ff. " Corp. ref.," 
26, p. 151 sqq. Kolde, " Die Augsburgische Konfession " p. 123 ff. 

2 Vol. ii., p. 179. 

3 Cp. Mohler, " Syrnbolik," 49, p. 428 n. 

" Confessio Au^nst.," art. 7. " Symbolische Bucher," ed. M tiller 
Kolde, p. 40. 

6 " Apol. confess.," art. 7, " Symbol. Bucher," p. 152. 


" Apologia " : " The Church has the command of God to appoint 
preachers." 1 

Regarding the same matter the Schmalkalden Articles of 1537- 
1538, which also form a part of the " Symbolic Books," have the 
following : " The Churches must have power to call, choose and 
ordain the ministers of the Church, and such power is in fact 
bestowed on the Church by God . , . just as, in case of necessity, 
even a layman can absolve another and become his pastor. . . . 
The words of Peter : You are a kingly priesthood refer only 
to the true Church, which, since she alone has the priesthood, 
must also have the power to choose and ordain ministers. To 
this the general usage of the Churches also bears witness." 2 

When the above was penned, indeed, even when Melanch- 
thon wrote the " Confessio Augustana," the new Church, 
though theoretically invisible, had long since received an 
established outward form. Yet its invisibility is emphasised 
in the Schwabach Articles which reject such outward laws 
as are inconsistent with the Church s character ; the Con 
fession and Apologia also refer to the (ghostly) union 
of hearts in the faith, and to the assembly of the (unknown) 

Nevertheless the visibility, so strongly insisted on in the 
Schmalkalden Articles, was practically indispensable, and 
was also a logical result of the whole work undertaken by 

First of all it was called for by the very nature of this 
" ministry " of those who were to preach and to dispense 
the sacraments in the name of the congregation ; according 
to Luther s teaching, the dispensing of the sacraments went 
hand in hand with preaching, the sacraments being efficacious 
only through the faith of the recipient, and the dispenser s 
duty being confined to making the recipient more worthy of 
the inpouring of grace through the word of faith which 
accompanies the visible sign of the sacrament. The minis 
terial " office " was not conferred by a sacrament as was 
the case in the priestly ordination of the olden Church, but, 
as Luther teaches, " ordination, if understood aright, is no 
more than being called or ordered to the office of parson 
or preacher." Among the Papists " Baptism and Christ had 
been weakened and darkened " by the ordinations. " We 
are born priests and as such we want to be known." " By 

1 Art. 14, " Symbol. Bucher," p. 42. 

2 " De potestato ot iurisdict. episcoporum " (by Melanchthon). 
" Symbol. Biicher," p. 341 f. 


Holy Baptism we have become the true priests of Christen 
dom as St. Peter says : 4 You are a royal priesthood. "* 
Ministers (i.e. servants) of the Word was the proper title for 
those who performed all their functions in the name of the 
common priesthood of the whole people. 

As soon, however, as it became a question of appointing 
preachers a visible Church at once appeared on the scene, 
though one without either Pope or hierarchy. 

It may be recalled that Luther s plan was originally to 
leave it to each congregation to appoint a preacher either 
from its own body or an outsider, who was then to act in 
their name and with their authority. There seemed no 
better way of securing control over the preacher s doctrine. 
As for the ecclesiastical penalties, Luther, even in his 
" Deudsche Messe," left their use to the congregation as a 
whole. 2 At a later date he still clung to the idea of the 
ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the congregation. Even to 
absolve from sin belonged, in his opinion, and to this he 
adhered to the end, to all believers, and such absolution 
was as valid as had it been pronounced by God Himself 
(always assuming that faith had already been awakened in 
the penitent). 3 On the authority of the congregation was 
to rest, not only the lower ministry, but also the quasi- 
cpiscopatc. The scheme he sketched in 1523 in the Latin 
work he addressed to the Bohemians, " De instituendis 
ministris eccleslce" has already been described. 4 

The many abuses which arose, and indeed were bound to 
arise, from the independence of the congregations soon com 
pelled him to cast about for a more reliable framework. 
The phantom of a community of believers united in spirit, 
of a " brotherhood " minus any social or constitutional 
cohesion and devoid of any vigorous direction, proved 
incapable of realisation. 

Help was to be looked for only from the State. 

By clinging to its solid structure the religious innovations 
would have a chance of avoiding the conventicle system 
and the danger of its congregations falling asunder. The 

1 Erl. ed., 31, p. 348 f. (1533). 

2 Ib., Weim. ed., 19, p. 75 ; Erl. ed., 22, p. 230. 

3 In " Von den Schliisselii," 1530, Weim. ed., 30, 2, p. 435 ff. ; Erl. 
ed., 31, p. 126 ff. Cp. Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 222 f. 

4 See above, vol. ii., p. 112. 


tendency to drift towards the State was also promoted by 
the opposition of the fanatical Anabaptists, for this sect 
was a menace to order in the congregations owing to its 
excesses and also to the pertinacity with which, following 
out Luther s own teaching, it insisted on individualism and 
repudiated the " office " of the ministry. Not only did 
Luther, after the rise of the Anabaptists, emphasise the out 
ward rather than the inward Word, but, for the same 
reason, he also laid much greater stress than formerly on the 
" office " and on the external representation of the Church s 
members invisibly united by the faith by duly called 

Thus, the Church, whose invisibility and spirituality 
Luther had been so fond of emphasising, became, in course 
of time, more and more a visible and concrete body, though 
remaining closely bound up with the State. Yet, even in 
Luther s earlier views on the Church, certain indications 
pointed to the visible Church yet to come ; indeed the ideas 
he retained from Catholic days were to prove stronger than 
he then anticipated. 

Of a statement contained in " De servo arbitrio " (1525), 
a book written after the rise of the Anabaptist subjectivism, 
Mohler justly remarks : " This passage views the clergy as 
the representatives of the Church which is thus quite 
visible ; professing the faith of the invisible Church and 
expressing its mind, this Church has a definite doctrinal 
standpoint which she advocates through her clergy, and, 
which, as the dictum of the Saints, she regards as true and 
infallible. Hence the visible Church appears as the expres 
sion and facsimile of the invisible Church." 1 

Already in his books against Alveld and Catharinus 
Luther was at pains to insist that the Church which he 
taught was a real community living on earth in the flesh, 
though not tied down to any definite place or persons. 2 
Wavering and confusion, here as elsewhere, characterise 
Luther s teaching. 

We can understand how his Catholic opponents, for 
instance Staphylus, make much of the change from the 
visible to the invisible Church. Staphylus dubs those who 
persisted in advocating her invisibility, the " Invisibiles" 

1 " Symbolik," 47, p. 416. 
* Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 398. 


such being the followers of Flacius, Sehwenckfeld and 
Osiander, and also the Anabaptists. 1 

It is a fact that Melanchthon, particularly in his later 
years, insists on the Church as an institution and on her 
visible nature more than Luther does. The eenturiators 
defined the Church as " ccetus visibilis" and, after Chemnitz s 
day (|1586), the Church of the Lutheran theologians is 
something quite visible, and is spoken of as an institution 
for the preservation and promotion of pure doctrine and of 
the means of grace which work by faith. 2 

Nor can the Wittenberg view of the Church be taken 
otherwise when we see how the theologians of that town in 
Luther s own time proceeded in appointing ministers and 
controlling and supervising their office. The preachers and 
pastors, after their doctrine had been found consonant with 
that of Wittenberg, 3 were " entrusted with the ministry " 
though it is not apparent whether the authorisation came 
from the congregations who applied for them, or from the 
theological examiners, or from the sovereign and his mixed 
consistory. The formulas used are by no means clear, save 
on one point, viz. that they expressly claim for the Witten- 
bergers the character of a true " Catholic Church," or at 
least their harmony with such a Church. 

In the ordination-certificate of Heinrich Bock (above, p. 265), 
who received a call as pastor and superintendent to Reval, the 
quondam city of the Teutonic Order in Esthland, and who had 
been " ordained " on April 25, 1540, by Bugenhagen, the pastor 
of Wittenberg, we find it stated : " His doctrine tallies with the 
consensus of the Catholic Church which our Church also holds, 

1 " Christlieher Gegenbericht," 1561, Bl. Y HI . (The copy in the 
Munich State Library contains the autograph dedication of Staphylus 
to Joh. Jacob Fugger.) Also in the " Apologia," by Laur. Surius, 
Colon, 1562, p. 353. Cp. Bellarminus, " Controversiae," t. 2 (Colon, 
1615), p. 58. 

2 " Centur.," 1, lib. 1, c. 4, col. 170, in Bellarmin, ib. In recent 
times Protestant theologians have divided on the subject, some favour 
ing more the visible, others the invisible Church. The latter are the 
more logical. Cp. G. Kawerau s statement : " We may dispute as to 
whether the term invisible Church is well chosen or not, but what it 
means is clear ; for what else is it but a decided protest against every 
attempt to attribute within the domain of the Evangel, to a visible, 
ecclesiastical, legally constituted society the attributes of the Church in 
which we believe? Protestantism by its very nature cannot make of 
its outward edifice an ecclesia proprie dicta. " " Uber Berechtigung 
und Bedeutung des landesherrlichen Kirchenregiments," 1887, p. 12. 

3 See above, p. 265. 


and he is free from every kind of fanaticism condemned by the 
Catholic Church of Christ." 1 Hence they claimed to be one with 
the universal Church throughout the world and not to form an 
isolated community apart ; this, as we know, was Melanchthon s 
favourite view. The olden hierarchy was, however, replaced by 
that of Wittenberg, as we read in the same certificate : " We " 
the signatories, Luther, Bugenhagen, Jonas and Melanchthon 
" have entrusted him with the ministry of the Church, that he 
may teach the Gospel and dispense the sacraments instituted by 
Christ," " iuxta vocationem," i.e. in accordance with the call of 
the authorities at Reval who had summoned the ordinand to 
govern their Church (" ad gubernationem ecclesice suce"). The 
testimonial was the work of Melanchthon. 

Other testimonials of this kind are similarly worded. 

The certificate of Johann Fischer who went from Wittenberg 
to Rudolstadt in 1540 (above, p. 265) sets forth that " he had 
been called to the ministry of the Gospel by the people there, who 
had also borne witness to his good moral character " ; they had 
asked that " his call might be reinforced by public ordination " ; 
this had been conferred on him when it had been shown that he 
held " the pure, Catholic doctrine of the Gospel which our Church 
also teaches and professes," and that he rejected all the fanatical 
opinions which the Catholic Church of Christ rejects. 2 The state 
ment embodied in the testimonial, giving the grounds on which 
the signatories, the pastor of Wittenberg and other " ministers of 
the Gospel," undertook such an ordination is noteworthy : " We 
may not refuse to do our duty to the neighbouring Churches for 
the Nicene Council made the godly rule that ordination should 
be requested of the neighbouring Churches." Of the objections 
that theology and Canon Law might have raised those who 
drafted the document seem to have no inkling. 

In this case the Wittenbergers claim to be no more than a 
" neighbouring Church " ; elsewhere they are more ambitious. 

The fact is, Wittenberg was anxious to stand at the head 
of the visible Church. 

It was at Wittenberg that Luther, as the leader of the 
young Church, had first preached the truth of the Gospel 
urged thereto " by Divine command " ; on the strength of 
such a command he was compelled to defend himself against 
the Elector s lawyers who wanted to play havoc with " his 
Church." 3 

" By divine authority we have begun to ameliorate the 
world." 4 

Foes at home twitted him with setting up an " office of 
the Word " by which an end was made of all freedom ; they 

1 Testimonial of May 17, 1540, " Brief wechsel," 13, p. 57 f. 

2 Testimonial of April 18, 1540, ib. p. 35 f. 

3 Above, vol. iii., p. 41. 4 See above, vol. v., p. 250. 


urged, that, at Wittenberg, people were trying to " breathe 
new life into despotism, to seat themselves in the chair and 
to exercise compulsion just as the Pope had done hereto 
fore." 1 Luther proclaims loudly : " We, who preach the 
Evangel, have full powers to ordain ; the Pope and the 
bishops can ordain no one." 2 " You are a bishop," said 
Luther once jokingly to a Superintendent, " just as I am 
Pope." 3 Beneath the jest there lay bitter earnest, for the 
authority of the " Wittenberg school " in Luther s estima 
tion stood high indeed ; whoever " despises it, so long as 
the Church and school remain as they are, is a heretic and 
a bad man," seeing that, in this school, God has " revealed 
His Word." 4 Nevertheless, the Wittenberg theologians 
complained that this authority was not recognised, that the 
Church was a " spectacle of woe," without " oneness either 
in doctrine or in worship " ; " our princes and cities " ought 
to bring about unity. Moreover things are bound to grow 
worse, seeing that " each one wants to be his own Rabbi." 3 
Outside Wittenberg, and even within the city walls, and that 
even in Luther s time, the prediction of Duke George about 
the 72 sects of the Protestant Babel seemed about to be 
fulfilled. 6 

Yet Luther, in setting up the Wittenberg Primacy, 
retained his former principles which were altogether at 
variance with unity and subordination. "Who holds the 
public office of preacher," so he declared in 1531, is not 
" forbidden to judge of doctrine " (before this, as tin- 
reader may remember, every " miller s maid " had been 
free to do this) ; but whoever has no such office may not do 
so, because he would be acting " of his own doctrine and 
spirit." 7 

Where is your office ? Such was his question in 1525 to 
his opponent Carlstadt. The latter appealed to the call he 
had received from the congregation of Orlamfinde. But of 
this Luther even then refuses to hear. He required from 
Carlstadt, in addition, the ratification of the sovereign, 
viz. of the Saxon Elector. 

Even in those days he was most anxious to see Church 
discipline established and excommunication resorted to, 

1 Erl. ed., 43, p. 281. Cp. Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 102. 

2 Above, vol. v., p. 191, n. 4. 3 Ib. 

* Above, vol. v., p. 170. 6 Ib. 6 Ib., p. 171. 7 Ib. 


even though this involved making the Church something 
visible ; the disruption and confusion everywhere rampant 
cried aloud for regulations, laws and penalties. 1 " Such 
punishment and discipline through the Ban," so he says, 
" is utterly odious to the world and causes the faithful 
ministers much work and danger ; for vice has already 
grown into a habit ; it is no longer a sin ; the ungodly have 
power, riches and position on their side. The greater the 
rascal the better his luck." 2 Yet, according to him it was 
impossible for the Church to make laws, otherwise we would 
again be putting up " snares for consciences " as in Popery. 3 
Laws must be made only by the sovereigns whatever 
discipline was enforced against the unruly was enforced by 
the secular authorities. " The most the parsons did for 
discipline was in following out the Electoral instructions to 
the Visitors and denouncing offenders to the secular officials 
and judges." 4 Of the " blasphemers," viz. those who were 
obstinate or opposed the New Evangel, Luther wrote in 1529 
to Thomas Loscher, parson of Milau : " They must be 
forced to attend the preaching," needless to say by temporal 
penalties ; in this way they will be taught the obedience 
they owe as citizens and also their duty to the State, 
" whether they believe in the Evangel or not. ... If they 
wish to live among the people, then they must learn the 
laws of the people, even though unwillingly." 5 Hence here 
and in other instructions it is no longer a question of the 
Church but only of the sovereigns ; these, so he urged, were 
to be backed by the preachers. He praised the Bohemian 
Brethren and the Swiss for having better discipline in their 
Churches, he also admitted that the action of the authorities 
would not of itself alone be sufficient to correct grave moral 
disorders. 6 

" Unless the Court gives its support to our regulations," 
Melanchthon once said, the result will be mere " platonic 
laws." 7 

References such as these to the State, which was now seen 
to be necessary for the support of the Church when once 

1 Cp. above, vol. v., p. 138 f. 

2 " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 1, p. 2G. 3 Above, vol. v., p. 180. 
4 Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 47. 

6 Aug. 26, 1529, " Brief wechsel," 7, p. 151. 

6 Kostlin, Art. " Kirche " in the v RE. f. prot. Th. und Kirche," 
vol. 10 3 . 7 Above, vol. v., p. 180. 


it had become a visible body, l are to be met with repeatedly 
by anyone who follows the history of Lutheranism in its 
beginnings, more particularly in the years 1525-1528. It 
was during this period that the union of the new Church 
with the State, which has been described above, was ac 
complished. The sovereign arrogated to himself those 
powers which gradually made him the supreme head of the 
Church and permanent "emergency-bishop." 2 The visi 
bility of the Church, or rather Churches as all claim to 
catholicity was abandoned save in the crcdal formularies 
rested on the enactments of the rulers, who, not without 
Luther s connivance, soon introduced the compulsory 
element into religion. To make use of the invisible power of 
the Gospel and to give advice to consciences as to moral 
conduct, was indeed left to the ministers of the Word. But 
it was the State that had to establish " the right form of 
worship and the right ecclesiastical organisation." 3 

All heretical communities from the commencement of the 
Church had looked to the State for help. But no heresiarch 
ever put himself so completely in the hands of the State in 
all outward matters as Luther and his fellows did where 
princes of their own party were concerned. " The common 
Christian Church " was, according to him, to retain for her 
self only the true faith and the sacraments which worked 
by faith. 

When, in the State Church thus called into being, the 
authorities proceeded too vigorously against the preachers 
and treated Luther without due consideration, the latter 
had himself a taste of the state of servitude into which he 
had brought the Church. Dollinger says truly that this 

1 Cp. " Colloq., ed. Bindseil, 1, p. 20 : " Lutherua dicebat de uau et 
necessitate consistorii, quod lapsam et pendentem ecclesiam iterum 
fulciret," etc. 

2 Weim. ed., 30, 3, p. 520 ; Erl. ed., 31, p. 217, in the writing " Von 
den Schleichern und Winckelpredigem " (1532), Luther directs 
" officials, judges and whoever has to rule " to ask the teachers who 
were under suspicion : " Who has sent you ? " ; Why are you after 
setting up something new ? " "If this work was done with zeal it 
would be of great profit. . . . Otherwise, unless they insisted on the 
call or command, there would come to be no Church left." Concern 
ing the provision for the Church s needs Luther speaks of the " duty " 
of the Elector to see in some way that the parsonages were adequately 
supported " in order that the Universities and divine worship be not 
hindered from want, from the needs of the poor belly." Erl. ed., 53. 
p. 331. 

3 Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 552, 


restriction must have been " doubly irksome to a man who 
had known the old episcopal, ecclesiastical rule and who 
now had to admit to himself that it was he who had brought 
about the destruction of a system which, in spite of all its 
defects, had dealt with Church matters in an ecclesiastical 
spirit, and that it was he who had paved the way for the 
new and quite unccclesiastical order of things." 1 

Not seldom do we hear Luther reproaching himself 
bitterly for the changes. 

Among the thoughts that chiefly disturbed his conscience 
was, as he himself repeatedly admits, that of having rent 
asunder the great Church. How can you justify your revolt 
against the one great Church of antiquity, the heir to the 
promises, so the inner voices said to him as he himself 
relates : " The words sancta ecclesia affright a man. They 
rise up and say : Preach and act as you like and can, 
the ecclesia Christiana* is still here. Here is the bark of 
Peter, it may be tossed about on the waves, but perish it 
will not ! . . . What was I to do ? And how was I to 
comfort myself ? . . . And yet I had to do it [i.e. preach 
against this Church] as here [John viii. 28] the Lord Christ 
also does and preaches against those who in name are God s 
Kingdom and God s priesthood. 2 

Elsewhere he admits : " What am I doing in preaching 
against such [representatives of the olden Church], like a 
pupil against his masters ? Thoughts such as these storm in 
upon me : Now I see that I am in the wrong ; oh, that I 
had never begun, never preached a single word ! For who 
is allowed to set himself up against the Church ? ... It is 
hard to persist and to preach against such a Ban." 3 And 
yet, in his defiant spirit, he does persist : " This hits one 
smartly in the face, as has often happened to me . . . yet 
the One Man, my Beloved Lord and Healer Jesus Christ, is 
more to me than all the holiest people on earth." Since he 
thinks it is His Evangel he is defending, he is able, though 
only at great costs, " to rise above the cry of Church. 
Church, " though he has to admit that, " this troubles me 
greatly," and "it is truly a hard thing ... to leave the 
Church herself and not to believe or trust her doctrine 
any more." 4 

1 " Luther, pine Skizze," p. 50 ; Art. " Luther," " KL,," 8 8 , p. 338. 

* Weim. ed.. 30, 3, p. 625 f. ; Erl. ed., 48, p. 358. 

* Ib., Erl. ed., 50, p. 8. * lb.. 46, p. 226. 


It was no real parallel when Luther, in order to justify the 
State Church, appealed to the conditions in the Middle Ages 
where the rulers had a share in Church matters, 1 for if then 
the princes had intervened in Church matters their action, 
at least in principle, was always subordinate to the ecclesi 
astical authority which kept the power in its own hands, and 
concerned moreover only those outward things in which the 
Church was thankful for their assistance : The two co 
ordinate powers, the secular and the spiritual, helped one 
another mutually such at least was the ideal of world- 
government in those days, acting in Christian agreement 
in the service of God and for the general welfare of mankind. 
Now, however, that the olden spiritual authority had been 
cither completely paralysed or reduced to the shadow of its 
former self, Luther undertook to replace it by the State, 
and thus the Church ceased to be any longer a co-ordinate 

Though the Wittenberg theologians insisted that to them 
belonged the care of souls and this alone, still the limits 
between this domain and that of the State became every 
where confused when once the new system had begun to 
work. Owing to the friction this caused, Luther, in the 
course of time, came to emphasise merely the duty of the 
authorities to arrange by law for the establishment of 
" schools and pulpits," and to " allow us divergency in 
preaching or morals." 2 Otherwise he left those in power, 
the high-handed nobles and officials, to do as they pleased, 
or, else, he lashed them ineffectually with violent and 
abusive language. In 1586 he declared, speaking of the 
marriage questions : " The peasants and the rude people 
who seek nothing but the freedom of the flesh, and likewise 
the lawyers who arc always bent on thwarting our decisions, 
have wearied me so greatly that I have thrown aside the 
marriage cases and written to some that they may do as 
they please in the name of all the devils ; let the dead bury 
their dead." 3 It was chiefly in the matter of these matri 
monial cases that he came into conflict with the Court 

1 Luther says, for instance, that, in earlier days, ; Emperors and 
Kings had commanded and instituted public worship in their lands " 
( K <">stl in -Ka weran, 2, p. 42). 

2 Kostlin-Kawerau, 2. p. 42. 

a To Albert Count of Mansfeld, Oct. 5, 1530, Krl. ed., f>5, p. 147 
(" Brief wechsel," 11, p. 90). 


lawyers, e.g. as to the validity of the secret marriage 
contracts. It was in this connection that he declared that, 
" in his Church," which was God s own institution, he would 
retain in his own hands the decision on such matters by 
virtue of his ecclesiastical office. In other strong remon 
strances wrung from him by the arbitrary interference of 
the State officials and the nobles in Church matters, he 
sometimes spoke so strongly of the inalienable rights of the 
Church that one might well think that he regarded the 
Church as essentially an independent institution with an 
organisation and spiritual authority of its own. 1 More 
usually, however, he simply sighs. When the Court of 
Dresden interfered with his plans for the improvement of 
Church discipline he w r rote resignedly : " Satan is still 
Satan. Under the Pope he pushed the Church into the 
world s sphere and now, in our day, he seeks to bring the 
State system into the Church." 2 

Without reverting to the subject of the State and Estab 
lished Church already dealt with (vol. v., 568 ff.) we may 
refer to the close connection between Luther s theology on 
the Church and the development which was its outcome. 
His theology, from the outset, had aimed at undermining 
the authority of the Church, while at the same time enlarging 
the sphere of the secular power. 

As early as 1520 in his work addressed to the German nobility 
he had praised the secular lords as " priests like us, equal in all 
things " ; " they were to give free scope to the office and work 
which they have from God, wherever it is needed or useful." Of 
the clergy, without considering their authority in ecclesiastical 
matters, he writes : " The priests, bishops or popes must deal 
with the Word of God and the sacraments, this is their work and 
office." 3 

" The direction of the outward business of the Church, i.e. 
what we now term Church government," so Sehling, the Protes- 

1 We may quote the remarkable letter to the Town Council of 
Zwickau, dated Sep. 27, 1536, Erl. ed., 55, p. 146 (" Brief wechsel," 11, 
p. 88) : " My feeling is always that the two rules, the spiritual and the 
secular, or Church and Town-Hall, are not to intermingle, otherwise 
the one devours the other and both perish as happened in Popery." 
Cp. on the other hand, above, vol. v., p. 580 : " everything must be 
equal and made to intermingle whether it be termed spiritual or 

8 To Daniel Cresser, parson at Dresden, Oct. 22. 1543. " Briefe," 5, 
p. 696. 

8 Weim. ed., 6. p. 409 ; Erl. ed.. 21, p. 284. 


tant Professor of Canon Law, says, " Luther in his writing to the 
German nobility, and ever after, attributes directly to the worldly 
authorities. . . . Nor, above all, does he claim for the Church 
any power of legislating. The Reformed Canon Law, so far as it 
was reorganised legislatively, was based entirely on the code of 
the State." 1 

Luther, in fact, recognised no other authority throughout* the 
whole of the social order than that of the State ; nowhere except 
ing amongst the secular authorities was there, according to him, 
any real power ; there is on earth only one power, viz. the 
secular. " Worldly superiors, by virtue of their calling, maintain 
order and rule according to law and equity ; as for the Church 
she has, by God s ordinance, her common ministry of Word and 
Sacrament." 2 " The power of the Churches," says the Schwabach 
Visitation Convention of 1528, " only extends to the choosing of 
ministers and the enforcing of the Christian Ban " ; besides this 
they may also provide for the care of the poor ; "all other power 
belongs either to Christ in heaven or to the secular authorities on 
earth." 3 

Nor could he well recognise any apostolic teaching authority in 
the " higher orders of the Church," seeing that a " little maid of 
seven years " on the side of the New Faith " knows more than 
the Apostles, Evangelists and Prophets " on the other side ; 
the latter are but the " devil s apostles, evangelists and prophets."* 

How he casts aside all the authority of the Church is perhaps 
shown most plainly in the short Theses of 1530 in his writing 
" Ettlich Artickelstiick, so M. L. erhalten wil wider die gantze 
Satans Schiile ufi alle Pforten der Hellen " : " The Christian 
Church has no power to issue the least order concerning good 
works, never has done so and never will." " The parson or 
bishop [i.e. the Evangelical ministers] has not the right to assert 
his authority everywhere for he is not the Christian Church. Such 
parson or bishop may exhort his Church to sanction certain fasts, 
prayers, holidays, etc., on account of the present needs, to be 
observed for a time and then be allowed to drop." 5 But what the 
Evangelical ministers cannot do, that the secular authorities may 
do, for, in another passage, Luther points out expressly the 
binding character of the rules which the authorities might draw 
up, for instance regarding fasts ; should the sovereign order fast- 
days, everyone must obey. In the same way if the German Prince- 
Bishops gave such an order it was to be obeyed, but only because 
they were Princes, not because they were bishops. 6 During the 

1 Mejer (f) und Sehling, " Kirchengewalt," in the " RE. f. prot. 
Th.," 3 . Cp. the art. " Kirchenregiment " : ki The Church, as a body 
separate from the State, is something modern (?) and quite unknown 
to Luther." 

" Colloq.." ed. Bindseil, 1, p. 22. 

See Emil Richter, " G-esch. der evangel. Kirchenverfassung in 
Deutschland," 1851, p. 64. 

Erl. ed., 25 2 , p. 424 f. 

/&., Weim. ed., 30, 2, p. 424 f. ; Erl. ed., 31, p. 122 f. 

To Melanehthon, July 21, 1530, k Brief wechsel," 8, p. 129 f. 

VI. Y 


Diet of Augsburg he refused to admit that, in future, there 
should be bishops having at the same time princely powers. On 
the other hand, however, he himself made the princes to all 
intents and purposes bishops. 

The contradiction in which he here involves himself has been 
brought out very strongly by a recent historian and theologian 
who as a rule is on Luther s side : " To our mind there is a glaring 
contradiction between Luther s theses on the spirituality of faith 
and the rights of the Christian authorities. Luther never noticed 
this contradiction, and, all his life, stood for both simultaneously. 
. . . From the religious standpoint he advocates the principle of 
unlimited freedom as inherent in the nature of faith ; in the 
secular sphere, i.e. in the domain of the State, he is unwilling to 
overthrow the principle shared by all [?] in his day, viz. that tho 
authorities have a right to assist in deciding on public worship and 
doctrine ; in the rightful domain of the worldly authorities his 
controversies have no right to intervene. Hence the contradic 
tion." 1 "Luther, who, where the peasants are concerned, plays 
the part of Evangelist, refuses to tamper anywhere with the 
existing [?] laws of the State where it is a question of their 
lords." 2 

Here Luther s fundamental idea of the separation between 
Church and world also comes into play. 

The Church of his theology must necessarily be absorbed by 
the State, because, being a stranger to the world, it was not con 
versant with the conditions and, even with the best will in the 
world, was unable to hold its own against the visible powers. 
The spiritual rule, according to him, was to be as widely 
sundered from the secular " as the heavens are from the earth." 3 
Thus the Church fled into a spirit realm and left the world to the 
tender mercies of the secular power. She thus became herself the 
cause of her "alienation and isolation from real life." 4 It 
naturally, indeed necessarily, followed that the sovereign set up 
government departments, which called themselves spiritual, but 
which in reality were secular and derived all their jurisdiction 
from him alone. Such were the consistories. 

The relations between State and Church in Lutheranism 
may be regarded as an indirect justification of the Catholic 
doctrine of the Church s nature. According to the Catholic 
view Christ founded the sublime structure of the Church 
as a free spiritual society. He willed that the saving 
grace he had won by His Death should be applied to 
the souls of men by means of a visible and independent 
institution, which, inspired by Him with His own ideal 

1 H. Hermelink, " Der Toleranzgedanke im Reformationszeitalter " 
(" Schriften des Vereins f. RG.," Hft., 98, pp. 37-70), 1908, p. 49. 

2 76., p. 66, n. 3 Above, vol. v., p. 565. 
4 See Paulsen, above, vol. v., p. 57. 


and holy aims and equipped with her own peculiar rights, 
should work for the salvation of mankind until the end 
of the world. Hence, the advocates of the olden Church 
not only set the idea of the Church in the foreground 
of the struggle, but they also explored, enlarged on and 
illumined this idea with the help of Holy Scripture and 
the teaching of the Fathers. Such was the work of men 
like Eck, Cochlaeus, Johann Fabri, Bishop of Vienna, and 
Catharinus, and, in the same century, of Melchior Canus, 
Peter Canisius, Bellarminc and Staplcton. They indeed 
allowed the inward side of the Church its soul as it 
has been called to come into its rights, but, at the 
same time, they maintained with equal firmness its 
thoroughly visible character, above all they insisted on the 
hierarchy with the successor of St. Peter at its head as 
the holder of the threefold spiritual power which Luther 
denied of shepherd, teacher and priest. On this point there 
could be no yielding. 

To those adherents of Luther s who fancied they could 
reach union without the Church s help and without an entire 
acceptance of the Catholic doctrine, Eck addressed the 
following : " There is no middle course and words are of no 
avail ; whoever wishes to make himself one in faith with the 
Catholic Church must submit to the Pope and the Councils 
and believe what the Roman Church teaches ; all else is wind 
and vapour, though one should go on disputing for a 
hundred years." 1 

What the above Catholic polemics said may be summed 
up as follows : 

Because the Church, according to Christ s plan, was to be an 
independent and living institution, His future " kingdom " and 
" heavenly vineyard," it replaced the Jewish synagogue by an 
even better institution. This Church was to be indestructible and 
the gates of hell were not to prevail against her (Matt. xvi. 18). 

As a real institution the Church was marked out by the gifts 
bestowed on it at the outset by the Divine Founder ; out of the 
plenitude of the power He possessed " in heaven and on earth " 
He .created in her a real, and no mere phantom office, comprising 
ghostly superiors, viz. the " ministerium ecclesiasticum " ; hence 
a twofold society arose consisting of those whose duty it is to 
guide and those who are guided. The latter receive from the 
former, i.e. from the hierarchy of priests, bishops and Pope, viz. 

1 Janssen, " Hist, of the German People " (Engl. Trans.), vol. vi., 
p. 148. 


the successor of Peter, the doctrine handed down by Christ, and 
preserved intact and infallible, together with Holy Scripture and 
its true reading. Those who have the oversight over the rest 
admit the faithful into the sacred company by means of visible 
rites, and, thanks to the obedience they receive as God s repre 
sentatives, there results " a body " of faithful united with Christ, 
the One True Head. 

It was to this hierarchy that, according to the Catholic theo 
logians, the solemn words of Christ were spoken : " He that 
heareth you heareth Me, and he that despiseth you despiseth Me " 
(Luke x. 16). " Go ye and teach all nations baptising them in 
the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost . . . 
and lo I am with you all days even to the consummation of the 
world" (Mat. xxviii. 19f.). The "Keys of the Kingdom of 
Heaven " are entrusted to them and they are told : " Amen I 
say unto you, whatsoever you shall bind on earth, shall be bound 
also in heaven ; and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall 
be loosed also in heaven " (Mat. xviii. 18). They may " com 
mand " as Paul did, who journeyed from place to place and 
"commanded them to keep the precepts of the apostles and the 
ancients" (Acts. xv. 41). Peter, moreover, and his successors, 
received the right and duty to feed " the sheep " as well as the 
" lambs " (John xxi. 16), besides the especial custody of the 
keys (Matt. xvi. 19) ; on him and on his God-given constancy the 
Church of Christ was built (Matt. xvi. 18). 

The Holy Ghost " placed " the bishops " to rule the Church of 
God " (Acts xx. 28). Whoever " will not hear the Church " is 
shut out from salvation and is to be regarded " as the heathen 
and publican " (Matt, xviii. 17). 

Nowhere in these passages, so it was pointed out, is there ever 
a word about the secular power having any hand in the growth of 
the great society of God upon earth. Nor could Christ, in view 
of the object to which He had founded His Church, without 
proving untrue to Himself, have left behind Him a helpless and 
unfinished work, dependent for its very life on the discretion of 
the secular authorities and taking its laws from the State. The 
Church s four marks (above, p. 295) point to something higher. 

Even did Luther wish to disregard the words of institution, he 
should at least, so it was urged, not shut his eyes to history ; 
now, from the earliest historical times, the Church had always 
existed under the form of a society, i.e. divided into the two 
categories of the teachers and the taught. Even according to 
Protestant writers this form may be traced back at least as far as 
the 2nd century, and, to an unprejudiced eye, its traces will be 
discernible even earlier in the authentic sources, i.e. the Bible and 
history. None, however, was better fitted to bear witness to the 
earliest organisation of the Church than the Church herself, for 
she could do so out of the unbroken and untarnished consciousness 
of her existence ; her testimony confirms her Divine appoint 
ment to be an independent society and a hierarchically governed 


Lutheranism, however, took scant notice of these Biblical 
and historical proofs. 1 Its founder, at the end of his life, 
left it as his legacy a church, or rather churches, of a 
different structure. In the evening of his days, in spite of 
the hopeless and imperilled state of his congregations, he 
refused to admit any gleam of light that might have brought 
him back to the unwavering authority of the ancient Church 
which once, in the days of his crisis, he had extolled. By 
heavenly signs and wonders, so he had pointed out in his 
Commentary on Romans (1516), this Church was introduced 
into the world ; she is the mother of those who teach ; to her 
decision every doctrine must bow if it is not to become a 
heresy, " robbed of the witness of God and of that divinely 
authenticated authority " which " down to the present day 
supports the Roman Church." 2 

Since he had descended into the arena of controversy his 
attitude towards the dogma of the Church had become not 
so much a matter of doctrine (for the essential question was, 
as Kostlin aptly remarks, " very insufficiently grasped and 
explained by him 3 ) as one of policy. 

5. Luther s Tactics in Questions concerning the Church 

Both for Luther s views on doctrine and for his psychology 
his tactics in his controversy about the nature of the Church 
offer matter for consideration. 

Controversy, as we know, tended to accentuate his 
peculiarities. His talents, his gift of swift perception, his 
skill for vivid description, his art of exploiting every ad 
vantage to the delight of the masses were all of value 
to him. What he wrote when not under the stress of 
controversy lacked these advantages, advantages, moreover, 
which, for the most part, were merely superficial, and some 
times, when he was in the wrong, display a very unpleasing 

1 Kostlin refers to the same thing when he says : " The fact that 
there was originally in Christianity a well defined office of overseers 
was either riot recognised by him at all, or at least not adequately." 
Art. " Kirche," " R.E. f. prot. Th.," 10 3 . 

2 Scholia to Romans, p. 248 f. Cp. above, vol. i., p. 323. 

3 Above, p. 297. 


The Erfurt Preachers in a Tight Place 

In 1536 Luther took a hand in a controversy which had 
arisen at Erfurt as to whether the " true Church was there," 
and whether his preachers, who represented the Church and 
were being persecuted by some of the Town Council, should 
leave the town. 1 

As early as 1527 he had had occasion to complain of the Erfurt 
Councillors ; they had not the courage "to go to the root of the 
matter " ; they tolerated the " dissensions " in the town arising 
from the divergent preaching of the " Evangelicals " and the 
" Papists," instead of " making all the preachers dispute together 
and silencing those who could not make good their cause." 2 Since 
the Convention of Hamelburg in 1530 3 both forms of worship had 
been tolerated in the town. To the great vexation of Johann 
Lang and the other preachers the quick-witted Franciscan, 
Conrad Kling, an Erfurt Doctor of Theology (above, vol. v., 
p. 341), delivered in the Spitalkirche sermons which were so well 
attended that the audience overflowed even into the churchyard. 
Catholic citizens of standing in the town and possessed of influence 
over the Council, spread the report that the Lutheran preachers 
were intruders who had no legitimate mission or call, and had not 
even been validly appointed by the Council. In consequence of 
this, Luther, with Melanchthon and Jonas, addressed a circular 
letter in 1533 to his old friend Lang and the latter s colleagues, in 
which he encourages them to stand firm and not to quit the town ; 
he points out that their call, in spite of all that was alleged, had 
been " with the knowledge of the magistracy," and not the result 
of " intrigue." 4 It is plain from this letter that the tables had to 
some extent been turned on Lang and his followers who had once 
behaved in so high-handed a manner at Erfurt, 5 and that they 
were now tasting " want and misery " as well as contempt. In 
vain did the preachers attempt to shake off the authority of the 
Council by claiming to hold their commission from God. 

Some while after, owing to the further efforts of Kling and his 
friends, the situation of the Lutherans became even worse ; it 
was then that Frederick Myconius, Superintendent at Goth a, 
took their side and persuaded Luther to write the above memor 
andum of Aug. 22(?), 1536, on the True Church of Christ at 
Erfurt. This was signed by Melanchthon, Bugenhagen, Jonas 
and Myconius, and may have been the latter s work. The docu 
ment is highly characteristic of Luther s tactics in the shifty 
character of the proofs adduced to prove the call of the Erfurt 

Memo, of Aug. 22 (?), 1536, " Brief wechsel," 11, p. 40 ff. 
"An die Christen zu Erfurt," Jan. Feb., 1527, Erl. ed., 53, 
p. 411 (" Briefwechsel," 6, p. 15). 
Above, vol. ii., p. 360. 

Sep. 30, 1533, Erl. ed., 55, p. 25 (" Briefwechsel," 9, p. 341). 
Cp. above, vol. ii., p. 336 ff. 


pastors. It did not succeed in inducing the Council to grant the 
preachers independence or to abrogate the restrictions of which 
they complained, although, as Enders remarks, " it exalted the 
spiritual power as supreme over the secular." 1 

There can be no doubt, so Luther argues, that, among his 
followers in the town of Erfurt, there was indeed the true " Holy 
Catholic Church, the Bride of Christ," for they possessed the true 
Word and the true Sacraments. God had indeed " sent down oil 
the people of Erfurt the Holy Ghost, Who worked in some of 
them a knowledge of tongues, discernment of spirits," etc. (1 Cor. 
xii. 10), in the same way He had given them Evangelists, teachers, 
interpreters and everything necessary for the upbringing of His 
Body (Eph. iv. 11 f.). He urges that the ministers of the Word 
were rightly appointed, though here he does not appeal as much 
as usual, to the supposed validity of the call by the Town Council, 
as the whole trouble had its source in the town magistracy. The 
appointment of the preachers, so he now says, was the duty of 
the Church rather than of the magistrates ; the Town Council 
had given them the call only in its capacity as a * member of the 
Church," for which reason their dismissal or persecution was 
quite unjustifiable. He also brings forward other personal, 
mystic grounds for the validity of their call : they were " very 
learned men and full of all grace " ; the appointment, which they 
had received not only from the " people and the Church, but also 
from the supreme authority." had taken place under the breath 
of the Spirit (" impetu quodam spiritus ") Who had sent them as 
reapers into the harvest ; they are recognised by all the Churches 
abroad, even the most important, and no less do their sheep hear 
their voice. Hence, if some of the magistrates now refuse to 
recognise them, they must simply appeal to their calling " by 
the Holy Ghost and the Church " ; the efficient cause here is, and 
remains, Christ, Who gives the Church her authority. Hence at 
all costs they must stick to their post. 

The whole of the extremely involved explanation points to 
the reaction now taking place in his mind owing to his bitter 
experiences with the authorities in the question of Church 

In this frame of mind he often makes the call depend solely on 
the Church, nay, on Christ Himself. If the Courts are to rule as 
they please, so he wrote in the midst of one of these conflicts with 
the authorities, the last state of things will be worse than the first. 
They ought to leave the Churches to the care of those to whom 
they have been committed and who will have to render an account 
to God. Hence Luther urges that the two callings be kept 
separate. 2 

What is also noteworthy in the memorandum for the people of 
Erfurt is that, in order to defend the legal standing of the 

1 In the Notes to the memorandum of 1533, " Brief wechsel," 9, 
p. 342. 

2 To Daniel Cresser, Oct. 22, 1543, " Brief e," 5, p. 596. See the 
text, above, vol. v., p. 182. 


preachers, he insists on the fact of their having been recognised 
by their congregation, who are willing to listen to them as their 
shepherds. Here we have the revival of an old idea of his, viz. 
that the soul-herd was really appointed by the people and in their 
name. In his later years he tended to revert to this view, though, 
in reality, the people never had a say in the matter. After having, 
in 1542, consecrated Amsdorf as " Bishop " of Naumburg, in the 
ensuing controversies he referred to the will of the " Church," 
i.e. of the Naumburg Lutherans. " All depends," so he wrote, 
" whether the Church and the Bishop are at one, and whether 
the Church will listen to the Bishop and the Bishop will teach the 
Church. This is exemplified here." 1 

Controversies with the Catholics on the Question of the Church 

In what Luther wrote against the Catholics we occasion 
ally meet some fine sayings on the unfettered authority of 
the Church in its relations to the secular rulers, 2 so greatly 
was his versatile mind governed by the spirit of opportunism. 

It was from motives of expediency that, in 1529, in his " Vom 
Kriege widder die Tiircken " he makes out Emperors and kings to 
be no protectors of the Church ; these worldly powers are " as 
a rule the worst foes of Christendom and the faith." " The 
Emperor s sword has nothing to do with the faith, but only with 
bodily and worldly affairs." 3 It must be remembered that he 
wrote this just before the dreaded Diet of Augsburg. Again, 
in 1545, in the Theses against the " Theo legists of Louvain " 
who had requested the State to protect the Catholic faith as 
heretofore, Luther says : " It is not the duty of Kings and 
Princes to confirm right doctrine ; they have themselves to bow 
to it and obey it as the Word of God and God Himself." 4 If the 
" Emperor s sword " and the " Kings and Princes " had been on 
his side, then his language would have been quite different. As 
it was, however, whenever he thought it might prove useful, he 
was not unwilling to come back even later to the standpoint 
of his writing " Von welltlicher Uberkeytt." 5 

When the Catholics, for instance at the Diet of Augsburg, 
reproached his party with having completely secularised the 
Church and with prohibiting Catholic worship with the help of 
the Princes who favoured him, his replies were eminently 
characteristic both of his temper and his mode of controversy. 

He knew very well, so he wrote in 1530, " that the Prince s 
office and the preacher s are not one and the same, and that the 
Prince as sucli ought not to do thi.3 [i.e. prohibit the Mass]." But 
in this the Prince was acting, not as a Prince, but as a Christian. 
It is also " a different thing whether a Prince ought to preach or 

1 Erl. ed., 26 2 , p. 124. 2 Cp. above, p. 320 11. 1. 

3 Weim. ed.. 30, 2, p. 130 f. ; Erl. ed., 31, p. 58 f. 

* Erl. ed., 65, p. 177. 5 See above, vol. ii., p. 297 ff. 


whether he ought to consent to the preaching. It is not the 
Prince, but rather Scripture, that prohibits winkle-masses " ; 
if a Prince chose to take the side of Scripture that was his own 
business. 1 

Another answer of Luther s was to the effect that the abomina 
tions of Catholic worship which were being abolished by the secular 
authorities were, after all, outward things, and that the power of 
the sovereign without a doubt stretched over " res externce." 2 

Of these attempts at justification and of his doctrine of the 
Church in general, Kostlin s observations hold good : " We 
cannot escape the fact that, here, there is much vacillation and 
that Luther stands in danger of contradicting himself." " We 
must admit that he had not studied deeply enough the questions 
arising out of the relations of the authorities to matters ecclesi 
astical." 3 " The decision [of the sovereigns] as to what constituted 
right doctrine was final as regards the substance of the preaching 
in their lands." " A nobleman who had received orders from his 
sovereign, the Duke of Saxony, to expel the Evangelical preachers, 
was told by Luther though what he said was undeniably at 
variance with other utterances that the sovereign had no right 
to do this because God s command obliged him to rule only in 
secular and not in spiritual concerns." " In fact the only 
answer he could give to the Popish persecutors when they 
alleged they were forced by their office and conscience to act as 
they did was : What is that to me ? for it was clear enough 
that they were using their authority wantonly." 4 

But how are we to explain his apparent readiness at the time 
of the Diet of Augsburg in 1530 to recognise the olden Church, and 
the power of the bishops, and even himself to submit to them if 
only they would allow him and his followers freedom to preach 
the Evangel ? The statements to this effect in his " Vermamig " of 
this year have been widely misunderstood through being taken 
apart from their setting. He does not for a moment imagine, as 
he has been falsely credited with doing, that it was not " his 
vocation to found a new Church separate from Catholicism " ; 
neither has he any desire to remain united with his foes " in one 
communion under the Catholic bishops." 

Luther, as he here says, is only willing, " for the sake of peace, 
to allow the bishops to be princes and lords," and this only on 
condition that "they help to administer the Evangel" i.e. take 
his part ; in that case they " would be free to appoint clerics to 
the parishes and pulpits." His offer is, " that we and the 
preachers should teach the Evangel in your stead," and " that 
you should back us by means of your episcopal powers ; only 
your personal mode of life and your princely state would we leave 

1 To the Elector Johann, Aug. 26, 1530, Erl. ed., 54, p. 188 (" Brief- 
wechsel," 8, 215). 

2 To Spalatin, Nov. 11, 1525, " Brief wechsel," 5, p. 272. 

3 KOstlin, " Luthers Theol.," 2 1 , pp. 554, 563. In the 2nd ed. the 
chapter has been altered and not always for the better. 

4 Ib., p. 563. 


to your conscience and to the judgment of God." 1 In the mean 
time, on account of the Catholic faith to which they clung, he 
calls them " foes of Cod," speaks of their " anti-Christian 
bishopry," and, because of the infringements of the law of 
celibacy, scourges them as the " greatest whoremongers and 
panders upon earth." 2 

In his controversies with the Catholics he often enough 
found himself faced by the objection, that the true Church 
could not be with him, because on his side all the fruits of 
holiness were wanting ; the Church being essentially holy 
should needs be able to point to her good influence on 

Thus, for instance, a Dominican adversary had written : 
According to Luther the Gospel had been under the bench for 
the last four hundred years ; but, now, surely enough, "it is 
under the bench even more than heretofore, for the Gospel and 
the whole of Scripture have never been so despised as at present 
owing to Luther s teaching, who excludes all love of God and 
man, all concord between lords and serfs, priests and laity, men 
and women, rejects all good works and discipline, obscures the 
truth and replaces it by nothing but lies and introduces hatred 
and envy, unchastity, blasphemy and disobedience." 3 

In his replies to such arguments against the truth of his Church 
Luther was loath to attempt the difficult task of proving the 
existence of holiness in the domain of the Evangel. On the 
contrary, with surprising candour, he usually meets his opponents 
half-way as regards the facts. Thus, in his " Wider Hans Worst," 
in 1541, he admits that things are just as bad as they had been in 
Jerusalem in the days of the prophets, " with us too there is 
flesh and blood, nay, the devil among the sons of Job. The 
peasants are savage, the burghers avaricious arid the nobles 
grasping. We shout and storm our best, helped by the Word of 
God, and resist as far as we can. . . . Willingly we confess and 
frankly that we are not as holy as we should be." 4 

Such admissions are followed by astonishing attempts to evade 
the force of the objection and by coarse attacks on the im 
morality of the Papacy which he exaggerates beyond all 

The few, he declares, who are good and virtuous suffice to prove 
the Church s holiness. " Some do more than their part ; that 
they are few in number does not matter. God can help a whole 
nation for the sake of one man as he did by Naaman, the Syrian 

1 Weim. ed., 30, 2, p. 339 f. ; Erl. ed., 24 2 , p. 396 ff. 

2 /&., p. 338 = 396. 

3 Job. Mensing, " Griindtliche Unterrichte, was eyn frommer 
Christen von der heyligen Kirche . . . halten sol," 1528, in Paulus, 
" Die deutschen Dominikaner," 1903, p. 25. 

4 Erl. ed., 26 2 , p. 66. 


(4 Kings v.). In short, one s life cannot be made a subject of 
debate." On another occasion he replies shrewdly that the mark 
of holiness was not nearly so safe as other marks, for distinguish 
ing the true Church ; for pious works were also practised at 
times by the heathen. ... As regards its importance as a mark, 
holiness must be subordinated to the true preaching of the Word 
and to pure doctrine, which in the end will always bring amend 
ment of life ; whereas corrupt doctrine poisoned the whole mass, 
a scandalous life was damaging chiefly to the man who lived 
it ; but corruption of doctrine had penetrated Popery through 
and through. 1 " We do not laugh when wickedness is committed 
amongst us as they [the Papists] do in their Churches ; as 
Solomon says (Prov. ii. 14) : Who are glad when they have done 
evil and rejoice in most wicked tilings, and also seek to defend 
them by fire and sword." 2 

We have here an instance of the tactics by which lie turns on 
his adversaries and abuses them. In his anxiety to turn the 
reproach of his foes against themselves he selects by preference 
the celibacy of the clergy and the religious vows ; nor does he 
attack merely the blemishes which the Church herself bewailed 
and countered, but the very institution itself. 

In his " Von den Counciliis und Kirchen " he exclaims : "The 
Pope condemns the married life of the bishops and priests, this is 
plain enough now " ; " if a man has been married twice he is 
declared by the Papists incapable of being promoted to the 
higher Orders. 3 But if he has soiled himself by abominable 
behaviour he is nevertheless tolerated in these offices." 4 " Why," 
he asks, most unjustly misrepresenting the Catholic view of the 
sacrament of marriage, " why do they look upon it as the lowest 
of the sacraments, nay, as an impure thing and a sin in which it 
is impossible to serve God ? " 5 

To what monstrous and repulsive images he can have recourse 
when painting the " whore Church " of the Papacy, the following 
from " Wider Hans Worst " will serve to show : You are, so he 
there writes in 1541 of the Catholics, " the runaway, apostate, 
strumpet-Church as the prophets term it " ; " you whore 
mongers preach in your own brothels and devil s Churches " ; it 
is with you as though the bride of a loving bridegroom " were to 
allow every man to abuse her at his will. This whore once a 
pure virgin and beloved bride is now an apostate, vagrant 
whore, a house-whore," etc. " You become the diligent pupils 
and whorelings of the Lenae, the arch-whores, as the comedies 
say, till you old whores bear in your turn young whores, and so 
increase and multiply the Pope s Church, which is the devil s own, 
and make many of Christ s chaste virgins who were born by 

1 Kostlin, " Luthers Thool.," 2 1 , p. 546. 

2 Erl. ed., 2G 2 , p. 66. 

3 " Digamy " as a canonical hindrance to ordination is founded on 
the prescription of St. Paul, 1 Tim. iii. 2, 12. For the history of this 
impediment see Phillips, k Kirchenrecht," 1, p. 519 ft. 

* Erl. ed., 25 2 , p. 427 6 Ib., p. 428. 


baptism, arch-whores like yourselves. This, I take it, is to talk 
plain German, understandable to you and everybody else." 1 

Without following him through all he says we shall merely 
draw the reader s attention to a proverb and a picture Luther 
here uses. The proverb runs : " The sow has been w r ashed in 
the pond and now wallows again in the filth. Such are you, and 
such was I once." 2 In the picture "the Pope s Church." i.e. hell, 
is represented as a " great dragon s head " with gaping jaws, as it 
is depicted in the old paintings of the Last Judgment ; " there, 
in the midst of the flames, are the Pope, cardinals, bishops, 
priests, monks, emperors, kings, princes and men and women of 
all sorts (but no children). Verily I know not how one could 
better paint and describe the Church of the Pope," 3 etc. 

After such rude abuse he comes back in the same writing to his 
usual apology. There was, he says, no object in alluding to the 
moral evils in the Lutheran Churches because of the Church being 
of its very nature invisible. 4 Everything depends on the doctrine 
k which must be pure and undefiled, i.e. the one, dear, saving, 
holy Word of God without anything thrown in. But the life that 
ought to be ruled, cleansed and hallowed daily by such teaching 
is not yet altogether pure and holy because our carrion of flesh 
and blood still lives." Yet " for the sake of the Word whereby 
he is healed and cleansed all this is overlooked, pardoned and 
forgiven him, and he must be termed clean." 6 

The Papists have a beam in their own eye, i.e. their false 
doctrine, but they see the mote in the eye of others * as regards 
the life." 6 If it is a question with whom the true Church is to be 
found he assures us : " We who teach God s Word with such 
certainty are indeed weak, and, by reason of our great humility, 
so foolish that we do not like to boast of being God s Churches, 
witnesses, ministers and preachers or that God speaks through 
us, though this we certainly are because without a doubt we 

1 Erl. ed., 26 2 , p. 45 f. 2 Ib., p. 46. 

3 76., p. 43. This, some years later, was to form the frontispiece of 
his book " Wider das Bapstum vom Teuffel gestifft." 

* Cp. what he says elsewhere : " The Church is an assembly of the 
people which is founded on the invisible. It is the ungodly who see in 
the Church nothing but misery, weakness, scandal and sin. The wise 
of this world take offence at her look because she is subject to scandals 
and divisions ; they dream of a holy, pure and undefiled Church, the 
Divine Dove. It is true that, in God s sight, the Church does so appear, 
but to the eyes of men she resembles her bridegroom Christ Who 
according te Isaias liii., seemed torn, bruised, spit upon, crucified, 
mocked at " (" Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 1, p. 14). Luther was perfectly 
aware of the works of holiness by which the Catholic Church is dis 
tinguished, her penitential practices and life of prayer. Speaking of 
this he is fond of depreciating it as something external and declaring : 
" Hence we must speak differently of the matter and learn to know 
that the Christian Church is holy, not in herself nor in this life, but in 
Christ ; a holiness by grace is indeed received here, but it is completed 
in the next world." Weim. ed., 30, 3, p. 408 f. ; Erl. ed., 63, p. 304 f. 
Preface to Crossner s " Sermon von der Kirche," 1531. 

* Erl. ed., 26 2 , p. 55. 6 P. 66. 


have His Word and teach it " ; it is only the Papists " who 
venture boldly to proclaim out of their great holiness : Here is 
God and we are God s Church." 1 

It was not, however, bold presumption and lack of 
humility that led Luther s literary opponents among the 
Catholics to appeal to the promises Christ had made to His 
Church ; rather it was their conviction that these solemn 
assurances excluded the possibility of the Church s having 
ever erred in the way Luther maintained that she had done, 

The Indefectibility of the Church and Her Thousand-Year-Long 


When the question arose, how the Church, in spite of 
Christ s protection, could nevertheless have fallen into such 
monstrous errors, 2 Luther was disposed to admit in his 
polemics that the true Church, i.e. the community of real 
believers, could not go astray. " The Church cannot teach 
lies and errors, not even in details. . . . How could it 
then be otherwise when God s mouth is the mouth of the 
Church. As God cannot lie neither therefore can the 
Church." 3 

Such an immutable and reliable guide to erring men for 
their perfect peace of mind and sure salvation, the Catholics 
retorted, did Christ intend to leave in His visible Church, 
ruled by the successors of St. Peter. 

An able Catholic work of 1528, already referred to above, 
emphasises the Church s immutability in her dogma : " That 
preacher who does not preach in accordance with the Holy 
Catholic Church and the holy Fathers sins against the truth. . . . 
With due reverence we firmly believe all that is written in the 
approved Books of the Old and New Testament. We must not, 
however, so confine ourselves to this as to look upon what the 
Holy Church teaches apart from Scripture as human dross, 
seeing that Scripture itself commands us to keep the doctrine of 
the Church and the Fathers." The author goes on to show his 
opponent Luther what services are rendered by the Church s 

1 P. 55. 

2 These errors constituted, according to Luther, a " flood of all kinds 
of human doctrine, lies, errors, idolatry and abominations," " count 
less devilish dens of murderers in which the welfare of souls suffers 
gruesomely " (Erl. ed., 31, p. 336 f.). 

3 /6., 26 2 , p. 53. Cp. ib., 31, p. 337 : " The Church, or Christendom, 
has remained and will stand, this is undoubtedly true." 


authority, how she preserves intact and vouches for the Canon 
of Scripture. It is only from the lips of the Church that we learn 
which books were written under the inspiration of the Holy 
Spirit. " For where is it written that we must believe the 
Gospels of Matthew, John and the rest ? But, if it is nowhere 
written, how is it you believe in these Gospels ? How much at 
variance is your practice with your teaching ? " l 

As to the infallibility of the Church Luther retorted : The 
invisible Church cannot err, but " that Church which we usually 
mean when we use the word, can and does err ; the congregation 
of true believers cannot be assembled in one particular spot and 
is often to be found where least expected. Moreover, even this 
Church, i.e. the true believers and the saints, can sometimes go 
astray by allowing themselves to be drawn away from the Word. 
. . . Hence we must always regard the Church and the saints 
from two points of view, first according to the Spirit, and, then, 
according to the flesh, lest their piety and their Word savours of 
the flesh." 2 The Church teaches according to the Spirit when 
her " belief tallies with the Word of God and the belief of Christ 
Himself in heaven. To speak in this manner and meaning is 
right." 3 But " we must not build on her opinion or belief where 
she holds or believes anything outside of and beyond the Word of 
God." 4 It was according to the flesh that all those abominations 
of errors were taught which were termed " opinions of the 
Churches, though they were nothing of the kind but merely 
human conceits, invented outside of scripture and parading 
under the Church s name." 5 

With this Luther s reader is flung back once more into the most 
subjective of systems, for who is to decide whether this or that 
doctrine "savours of the flesh." Each one for himself, solely 
according to the standard of Holy Scripture or, rather, each one 
as Luther dictates. But Luther s decisions touched only the 
doctrines known to him ; who is to decide on the questions yet 
to arise after his death ? 

He condemns the errors of the Middle Ages. Yet he is occa 
sionally ready to praise the Mediaeval Church. As we know he 
acknowledged that she had preserved Baptism. When the 
Church says that " Baptism washes away sin," this, to Luther, 
does not savour of the flesh. " She also holds and believes that 
in [?] the bread and wine the Body and Blood of Christ are 
given. . . . Summa, in these beliefs the Church cannot err." 6 
These, however, merely happened to be Luther s own opinions. 
Infant-Baptism Luther defended against the Anabaptists without 
seeking help in the Bible ; as for the presence of Christ in the 
Sacrament against the Zwinglians he indeed had the words of 
the Bible, yet here, too, he was only too glad to reinforce what 
he said by the traditions and infallible teaching office of the 

1 Above, p. 330 n. 3. Paulus, ib.. p. 24. 

2 Kostlin s summary. "Luther s Theol.," 2 1 , p. 552. 

3 Erl. ed., 31, p. 333. * /&., p. 332. 
* Ib., p. 334. * 76., p 332 


Church, though in so doing he was contradicting his own 
theory. l 

Luther, with characteristic disregard of logic, calls the earlier 
Church a " Holy place of abominations." She was a " holy 
place," for " there, even under the Pope, God maintained with 
might and by wonders first Holy Baptism ; secondly, in the 
pulpits, the text of the Holy Gospel in the language of each 
country ; thirdly, the Forgiveness of Sins and Absolution both 
in Confession and publicly ; fourthly, the Blessed Sacrament of 
the Altar ; . . . fifthly, the calling or ordination to the preaching 
office. . . . Many retained the custom of holding up the crucifix 
before the eyes of the dying and reminding them of the sufferings 
of Christ 011 which they must rely ; finally, prayer, the Psalter, 
the Our Father, the Creed and the Ten Commandments, item 
many good hymns and canticles both in Latin and in German. 
Where such things survived there must undoubtedly have been a 
Church, and also Saints. Hence Christ was assuredly there with 
His Holy Spirit, upholding in them the Christian faith though 
everything was in a bad way, even as in the time of Elias, when 
the 7000 left were so weak that Elias fancied himself the only 
Christian still living." 2 

Nevertheless, this was the selfsame Church, which not only 
connived at the teaching of heretical abominations but actually 
herself taught all the depravities which Luther describes in the 
same writing, such as her peculiar doctrine of priestly ordination, 
of the validity of the secret Canon of the Mass, of the spiritual 
authority of the bishops, of justification, good works and satis 
faction, of purgatory, saint-worship, etc. 

That here he does not condemn the olden Church off-hand and 
fling her to the jaws of the dragon as he was wont to do is a 
casual inconsistency ; his moderation here is to be explained by 
the necessity he was under then (after the Diet of Augsburg), of 
showing that he could claim a certain continuity with the Church 
of the past, and also by his desire to influence those Catholics who 
were still sitting on the fence and whom he would gladly have 
drawn over to his own side by seeming concessions, in accordance 
with his tactics at Augsburg. 

Yet, in spite of the above concessions, the Mediaeval 
Church remains in his eyes a " place of abominations " ; 

1 Cp. Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 552 : " While he ... repeatedly 
declared, that, in spite of the Divine promises, Christendom had fallen 
into error on certain points, he could never be induced to admit this 
of the article of the Presence of the Body [of Christ in the Sacra 

2 Erl. ed., 31, p. 339. Elsewhere he likewise admits, that, in the 
olden Church and particularly in the convents " there lived many 
great saints " ; it was true that they, " the elect of God," had been led 
astray, " yet they were at last delivered and made their escape through 
faith in Jesus Christ." Weim. ed., 26, p. 504 ; Erl. ed., 30, p. 366 


her members, though validly baptised, are not members of 
the Church ; they might indeed sit in the Church, but only 
as Antichrist sits in the Temple of God (2 Thess. ii. 4) ; her 
children would be saved if they died before coming to a full 
knowledge of the Popish Church, but if they grew up and 
followed her lying preaching then they would become 
devil s whores; 1 even as I myself " was stuck fast in the 
behind of the devil s whore, i.e. of the Pope s new Churches, 
so that it is a grief to us to have spent so much time and 
pains in that shameful hole. But praise and thanks be to 
God Who has delivered us from the Scarlet Woman ! " 2 

So low is his esteem for the authority of the tradition of 
the " Holy Place of abominations," that he includes among 
the doubtful and fallible statements of that Doctor of the 
Church the famous saying of St. Augustine, that he would 
not believe the Gospel were it not for the Church. 3 He urges 
that Augustine himself had declared, that his doctrines were 
to be examined, and only those to be accepted which were 
found correct. He prefers to harp on another passage where 
St. Augustine says : " The Church is begotten, fed, brought 
up and strengthened by the Word of God," 4 as though 
St. Augustine in speaking thus of the soul of the Church 
was denying her external organisation, her spiritual 
supremacy, and her teaching office. Luther, however, 
treated tradition just as he pleased ; theologians had always 
distinguished between those traditions of the olden Doctors 
that had been guaranteed by the Church and those views 
which were merely personal to them ; the latter no theo 
logian regarded as binding, whereas the former were accepted 
by them with the respect befitting the witnesses. Here, 
once more, we see Luther s subjective principle at work, 
which excludes all authoritative doctrine that comes to man 
from without, leaves him exposed to doubt and negation, 
and quite overlooks the fact that all revelation in last 
resort comes to the individual from without with an irre 
sistible and authoritative claim to respect. Just as the 
Divine revelation vindicates its claim to acceptance by the 

1 Erl. ed., 26 2 , p. 46 f. 2 /&., p. 43. 

3 " Augustinus voluit scribere iudicanda non credenda, sicut alius 
locus eiusdem scriptoria testatur : Nolo meis scriptis plus credi," etc. 
(" Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 1, p. 17). Cp. vol. iv., p. 400. 

4 " Ecclesici verbo Dei generator, alitur, nutritnr, roboratnr (Erl. ed., 
25 2 , p. 420). 


faithful by means of proofs, so too, the teaching authority 
of the Church as Luther s Catholic opponents were not slow 
to point out could show proofs that what was presented 
to the faithful as an article of belief might reasonably be 
accepted without any need of previously testing it to see 
whether it agreed with Holy Scripture an examination, 
which, as a matter of fact, most people were not capable of 

As the polemic we quoted above argues, Protestants held 
Holy Scripture to be so clear that everyone could under 
stand it without outside help. " But, if the heretics think 
Scripture to be so plain and clear, why do they write so 
many books in order to explain it ? If Scripture is so clear, 
plain and easy to understand how is it that they arc so 
much at variance concerning that one text : This is My 
Body? " 1 

Luther now fell back on the Holy Spirit. " Without the 
Holy Ghost," he says, " it is impossible to discern the 
abominations from the Holy Place. But, so he was justly 
asked, who is to vouch for it that a man has truly the Holy 
Spirit ? And, if, as Luther opines, the Holy Ghost points 
to the fruits as the means whereby He may be recognised, 
everything again depends on the fruits being judged accord 
ing to Luther s own moral standard. In short, in these 
controversies, Luther revolves in a vicious circle. 

In his Table-Talk Luther s habit of shielding himself from 
objections behind the strangest misrepresentations is again 
apparent. Such misrepresentations, occurring in his most 
intimate conversations, show that he was very far from merely 
using them in public or from motives of policy ; rather they 
influence his whole mode of thought and feeling and were a second 
nature with him. We have only to turn to his conversations on 
the subject of the " Church," collected in 1538 by his friend and 
companion Anton Lauterbach. 2 

Here we meet with the revolting assertion that, in the 
Papistical Church, the Pope claimed to be the only one who 
had a right to interpret Scripture, and that he did this " out 
of his own brain " ; this Church, so Luther goes on, had set up 
a mass of human regulations and vain observances which stifled 
all freedom and true religion ; " the name Church was a pretext 
for the most abominable errors." Further, " the true Church 
[i.e. mine] teaches the free forgiveness of sins, secondly, she 

1 Mensing, in Paulus, ib., p. 25. 

2 " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 1, pp. 13-25: " Ecclesia. qua? regnuw 
Christi dic-itur" 

VI. 7, 


teaches us to believe firmly, and, thirdly, to bear the cross with 
patience. But the false Church [the Pope s] ascribes the forgive 
ness of sins to our own merits, teaches men to waver, and, finally 
does not carry the cross but rather persecutes others." Besides, 
how can the Papists have the true Church, seeing that they are 
" some of them Epicureans, some of them idolaters ? " Fancy 
talking about the authority of the Church ! Is it with this that 
the fanatical Anabaptists are to be vanquished ? " Moreover, we 
know that : The true Church never at any time bore the name 
or title that the godless so boldly claim ; she was ever nameless 
and is therefore believed rather than seen ; for the most part she 
lies downtrodden and neglected ; weakness, crosses and scandals 
are her portion. Only look at the Church under the tyranny of 
the Pope ; the Papal Decretals are the ne plus ultra of un 

" I am astonished," so he ends, speaking of the Roman 
Primacy, " at the great blindness with which men worshipped 
the Pope s lies and his boundless and utterly shameless audacity, 
as though Holy Scripture depended on the authority of the 
Roman Church whose head lie claimed to be, basing his claim on 
the words of Christ (Matt. xvi. 18) Thou art Peter and on this 
rock I will build My Church. " 

Luther s Tactics in the Interpretation of the Bible 

The text just quoted leads us to glance at his Biblical 
arguments ; to conclude this chapter we shall therefore give 
as a sample of his exegesis on the Church a more detailed 
account of his exposition of the chief argument for the papal 
primacy, viz. Christ s promise to Peter, using for this 
purpose his last book against Popery. 1 

He would fain, so he says, " point out the Christian sense of 
this text " as against that read into it by the hierarchical Church ; 
nevertheless, at his first effort ho cannot rise above a coarse 
witticism. "For very fear," on approaching this text " Thou 
art Peter," etc., something "might easily have happened had 1 
not had my breeches on ; and I might have done something that 
people do not like to smell, so anxious and affrighted was I." Why 
did not the Pope appeal rather to the text : "In the beginning 
Cod created the heavens that is the Pope and the earth, that 
is the Christian Church," etc. This is the first answer. 

The second is a perversion of the Catholic view ; he accuses the 
Pope of deducing from the text under discussion, that he has 
"all power in heaven as well as on earth " and authority " over 
all the Churches and the Emperor to boot." This parody of the 
truth Luther proceeds triumphantly to demolish as " blasphemous 

1 Erl. ed., 26 2 , p. 172 ff., " Wider das Bapstum zu Rom vom Teuffel 
gestifft," 1545, 


idolatry." There follows thirdly an appeal to the " Emperor, 
Kings, Princes and nobles " to seize upon the Papal States which 
the Pope has stolen by dint of " lying and trickery " and to slay 
as blasphemers him and his Cardinals. 

He goes on to explain the Bible passage in question by proving, 
fourthly, against the " wicked, shameless, stiff-necked " Papists 
from Eph. iv. 15, and from Augustine and Cyprian, " that the 
whole of Christendom throughout the world has no other head 
set over it save only Jesus Christ, the Son of God." The true 
sense of Eph. iv. 15 and the real teaching of both the Fathers in 
question are too well known for us to need to waste words on 
them here. fifthly, he brings forward John vi. 63 : " My words 
are Spirit and life " and argues : " According to this the words 
Matt. xvi. 18 [concerning Peter and the rock] must also be 
Spirit and life. . . . The upbuilding must here mean a spiritual 
and living upbuilding ; the rock must be a living and spiritual 
rock ; the Church a living and spiritual assembly, nay, some 
thing that lives for all eternity. These facts, however, had always 
been admitted by Catholic commentators without causing them 
any apprehension as to the primacy or the visible Church. 
Sixthly, he seeks to demonstrate that the Church can only be built 
on the rock indicated by Christ " by faith " ; this, however, 
excludes the primacy of Peter, for " whoever believes is built 
upon this rock." Seventhly : " It is thus that St. Peter him 
self interprets it, 1 Peter ii. 3 ff.," though this is a fact only 
credible to one who is already of Luther s opinion. Eighthly, he 
will have it that, in the famous passage, Christ meant to say 
no more than : " Thou art Peter, that is a rock, for thou hast 
perceived and named the Right Man, viz. Christ, Who is the true 
Rock, as Scripture terms Him. On this rock, i.e. on Me, Christ, I 
will build the whole of My Christendom." 

This reading would certainly cut away the ground from under 
the argument of the Catholics. 1 Nevertheless Protestant 
scholars have repeatedly shown themselves willing to apply 
Christ s promise to the person of Peter, as ecclesiastical tradition 
has ever done, and to defend this as the true sense of the words. 
Thus the Berlin exegetist, Bernhard Weiss, writes : " By using 
rai TTj for the name (Peter), signifying a rock, any application of 
the words either to Jesus or to the faith or confession of Peter 
is shut out. ... It can only be understood of his person," etc. 2 
By Holtzmann, the Strasburg exegetist, the opposite interpreta 
tion was uncharitably described as a fruit of the " school of 
Protestant ex parte exegesis." 3 

1 As early as the Leipzig Disputation Luther had been obliged to 
have recourse to the explanation, that by the rock was meant either 
the faith Peter had confessed, or else Christ Himself. Kostlin-Kawerau, 
1, 245, remarks on this : " We cannot honestly deny its weakness." 

2 "Das Matthausevangelium und seine Parallelen," Halle, 1876, 
p. 393. 

3 * Zeitschr. f. wissensch. Theol.," ed. Hilgenfeld, 1878, p. 115. 
H. A. Meyer, " Kritisch-exegetisches Handb. fiber das Evangelium des 
Matthaus," 8 Gottingen, 1876, says of Matt. xvi. 18 f.: "There is no 


We must, however, allow that, both here and in his treatment 
of the promise of the keys (Matt. xvi. 19), Luther shows himself 
an adept in the use of language. " To speak plain German we 
may say this," so he begins one of his commentaries, and indeed 
he knows how to speak well and in a manner calculated to 
impress his hearers. Of the matter, however, we may judge from 
the following : "To thee I will give the keys of the kingdom of 
heaven," this means that, should anyone refuse to believe the 
apostles, on him they should pass sentence and condemn him " ; 
their " office " still remains in the Church, there always being 
" retaining of sins for the impenitent and unbelieving, and for 
giveness for the penitent and the believing " ; but, quite apart 
from this " office," believers have absolute power " where two 
or three are gathered together in the name of Christ (Matt, xviii. 
20). MI Here again we have Christ s promise misconstrued, which 
does not refer to spiritual authority but solely to the effect of the 
prayer in common of two or more of the faithful. 2 

" Hence, let the Pope and his Peter be gone," so he concludes 
..." even though there were a hundred thousand St. Peters, 
even though all the world were nothing but Popes, and even 
though an angel from heaven stood beside him ; for we have here 
[Matt, xviii. 18, where the power of binding and loosing is bestowed 
on all the apostles] the Lord Himself, above all angels and 
creatures, Who says they are all to have equal power, keys and 
office, even where only two simple Christians are gathered together 
in His name. This Lord we shall not allow the Pope and all the 
devils to make into a fool, liar or drunkard ; but we will tread the 
Pope under foot and tell him that he is a desperate blasphemer 
and idolatrous devil, who, in St. Peter s name, has snatched the 
keys for himself alone which Christ gave to them all in common. 
" It is the Lord Himself Who says this [John xx. 21 ff.] ; there 
fore we care nothing for the ravings of the Pope- Ass in his filthy 
decretals." 3 

doubt that the primacy among the Apostles is here bestowed on Peter." 
Schelling wrote (" Philosophic der Offenbarung," 2, Stuttgart, 1858, 
p. 301) : " These words of Christ (Matt. xvi. 18 f.) are conclusive to all 
eternity as to the primacy of St. Peter among the Apostles : it requires 
all the blindness of party spirit to fail to see this or to give them any 
other meaning." 

1 P. 185. 2 Above, p. 305. 3 P. 188. 



1. The Flight from Wittenberg 

" OLD age is here," so wrote Luther in a fit of depression to 
his Elector on March 30, 1544, in his sixty-first year ; " old 
age which in itself is cold and ungainly, weak and sickly. 
The pitcher goes to the well until one fine day it breaks ; 
I have lived long enough, may God grant me a happy 
deathbed. . . . Methinks, too, I have already seen the best 
I am like to see on earth, for it looks as though evil days 
were coming. May God help His own ! Amen." He 
recommends his sovereign to seek comfort in the " Dear 
Word of God " and in prayer, assuring him : " These two 
unspeakable treasures shall never be the portion of the 
devil, the Turk, or of the Pope and his followers." 1 

About this time he had to complain of palpitations, 
dizziness and calculus. His will he had already drawn up 
on Jan. 6, 1542. 2 In it he refused to make use of the usual 
legal forms, being determined to have nothing to do with 
the lawyers, with whom he was always at variance. He was 
quite aware that lawyers still insisted on the objections to 
the validity of the marriages of clerics and monks and the 
rights of inheritance of their children, as they indeed were 
bound to do not only by Canon Law but also by the law of 
the Empire. 

How cheerfully he was inclined to look forward to death 
even the year before is apparent from a letter to Myconius, 
" the bishop of the Churches of Gotha and Thuringia," who 
was then lying seriously ill ; here he says : " I pray our 
Lord Jesus not to call to everlasting rest you and our 
followers and leave me here among the devils to be still 
longer tormented by them. Truly I have been long enough 

1 " Brief e," ed. De Wette, 5, p. 638. 

1 See vol. iv., p. 329. Cp. vol. iii., p. 436 f. 



plagued by them and really I deserve that my turn should 
come before yours. Hence my prayer is : May the Lord 
lay your illness upon me and rid me of my earthly habitation 
which is so useless, worn-out and exhausted. I see right 
well that I am no longer good for anything." 1 

After his above farewell-letter to the Elector Luther s 
thoughts reverted to death more frequently than before. 
He cast up the books he had still to write and took stock of 
his powers to see whether he would have time to finish 
them. For his energy and spirit of enterprise were by no 
means yet dead, though at times they seem to be paralysed. 
Often enough he pulls himself together in his letters suffi 
ciently to make jokes with his friends, the better both to 
banish his own gloomy thoughts and to inspire the addressees 
with greater courage and confidence. Nevertheless, through 
it all, we can detect his disquiet and suffering. 

" You often importune rne," so he wrote to his pupil Anton 
Lauterbach about the end of 1544, " for a work on ecclesiastical 
discipline, but you do not tell me where I am to find the leisure 
and health, seeing that I am a worn-out and idle old man. I am 
ceaselessly snowed under with letters. I have promised the 
young princes a sermon on drunkenness, others and myself I 
have promised a book on secret marriages, others again, one 
against the Sacramentarians ; some now want me to set all else 
aside and write a Summa and running gloss on the whole 
Bible. Thus one thing stands in the way of the other and I get 
through nothing. And yet I had imagined that, as one who had 
already done his work, I had earned the right to some leisure, and 
to live quietly and in peace and so pass away. But I am com 
pelled to pursue my restless way of life. Well, I shall do what I 
can, and, what I can t, I shall leave undone. . . . Pray for us as 
we do for you." 2 

In Jan., 1545, when he had almost completed his long and 
arduous work on Genesis, he sighed : " May God put an end to 
this moribund and sinful life as soon as this book is finished, or 
even before should it please Him ; do you ask God this for me. 
. . . Yes, truly, pray for my happy dissolution and that I may 
die a good death." 3 " Pray for me," he wrote to Amsdorf in 
May of the same year, " that I may be set free as soon as may be 
from my fetters and be united to Christ, but that, if my life, or 
rather my sickness, is to last still longer, God may bestow on me 
strength of body and force of soul." He praises God that he him 
self and his friends, "though unworthy sinners, had been chosen 
for this blessed and glorious office, viz. to hear the voice of God s 

1 Jan. 9, 1541, " Briefe," 5, p. 327. 
8 Dec. 2, 1544, " Briefe," 5, p. 701. 
3 To Wenceslaus Link, Jan. 17, 1545, " Briefe," 5, p. 714. 


Majesty in the Word of the Evangel ; on this the angels and all 
creation wish us luck, but the Pope is dismayed and all the gates 
of hell shake." 1 

Luther s extant letters covering the period from May to 
December, 1545, afford us an insight into the emotions 
through which he passed. 

From the month of May onwards he sank deeper and 
deeper into a dreary state of annoyance and sadness, and, at 
last, at the end of July, he shook the dust of Wittenberg 
from his feet. In the latter half of August, after he had 
allowed himself to be persuaded to return, his spirits 
rapidly revived, and such was the reaction that his new 
mystical ardour knew no bounds while his exertions seem 
almost incredible. 

To take the period in question in its chronological order : 
The month of May commenced with a bitter attack on Agricola, 
and, on the latter s arrival at Wittenberg, he refused even to see 
him. " Of this monster," he wrote on May 2, "I will hear 
nothing but words of condemnation ; of him and his friends 
may I be rid for all eternity. . . . Satan may rage and boast as 
he pleases ! " 2 His annoyance, as is usual with him, is speedily 
transferred to Satan. That same day, plagued with a tiresome 
matrimonial dispute, he asked : " Is then the devil master of the 
world ? " 3 Shortly after he declared the Pope to be the " monster 
of Satan, the end of whose days was at hand." 4 His joy at the 
approaching end ( " gaudeamus omnes in Domino ") is, however, 
not unmixed. The thought depresses him that the devil should 
still be active even at Halle which had recently been won over 
to the Evangel, and that he had there " just blessed, or rather 
cursed, two nuns, thereby proving how much more he fain 
would do." 5 

Annoyance at the bad treatment of his preachers also lets loose 
a flood of complaints. " In many places," so he laments, " they 
are treated very ill so that they are minded to depart and are even 
compelled to take flight." 6 The hostility of the politicians at 
Court and the lawyers, was also a cause of profound grief to him. 7 

With greater apprehension than usual he saw at the beginning 
of June terrifying natural portents and prayed with passionate 
longing for the " overthrow of all things " which he was confi 
dently awaiting. 8 

Already in spirit he saw the sparks of the coming conflagration 
which was to consume Germany for her chastisement, " before 
the outbreak of which may God deliver us and ours from this 
misery ! " 9 

1 May 7, 1545, " Briefe," 5, p. 737. 

2 /&., p. 735. 3 P. 733. * P. 737. 5 P. 738. P. 739. 
7 Sec below, p. 355 ff. 8 " Briefe," 5, p. 741. 9 Ib., p. 742. 


In July anger at the " contempt of the Word on our side and 
the blasphemy of our foes," 1 the sad sight of the want of unity 
and growing number of sects in his own camp, where " each one 
insists on following his own ideas," 2 the "decline of learning " 
amongst his followers, where ** many bellies are set only on 
feeding themselves," 3 all this combined with other experiences 
tended to make his depression unendurable. To be obliged to set 
in order the public worship spelt a positive torture to him. 4 Even 
in his own household he had cause for bitter disappointment in 
his niece Magdalene who had insisted on making love to a man 
(whom she was ultimately to marry) of whom Luther did not 
approve, thus giving Satan an opportunity for " maliciously 
attacking " Luther s good name. 6 

Yes indeed, " Satan rules," he said to Amsdorf, in a letter of 
July 9, " and all have lost their wits." 6 Here the cause of his 
vexation was the Emperor, who, so he had been told, was 
insisting that the Protestants should attend the Council of Trent 
and submit to it. It is true Luther does not give up all hope of 
God again making a mockery of Satan, 7 but, in the meantime, 
he execrates and curses the Council. 8 He also vents his wrath 
on the Emperor, Ferdinand the German King, the King of 
France and the Pope. And why ? Because he was only too 
ready to give credence to a report which had reached him that 
they had despatched ambassadors to the Grand Turk with gifts 
and an offer of peace, and that, clothed in long Turkish garments, 
they were humbling themselves before the infidel. 9 " Are these 
Christians ? They are hellish idols of the devil. Yet I hope they 
are at the same time a glad token of the coming of the end of all 
things. Let them worship the Turk, but let us call upon the true 
God, Who will humble both them and the Turk in the Day of His 
Coming." 10 

He is still suffering from the after-effects of the excitement in 
which he had, as he says, penned his " book brimful of bitter 
wrath, against the Papal monster," viz. his " Against the 
Popedom founded by the Devil." He has not the strength left 
to write a sequel to it, but he tells his friend Ratzeberger : "I 
have not yet done justice either to myself or to the greatness of 
my anger ; I know too that I can never do full justice to it, so 
great and boundless is the enormity of the Papistic monster." 
In such a frame of mind he feels keenly that he is the " trump 
heralding the Last Judgment." 11 

He is conscious, however, that his trump cannot peal loud 
enough in the world (" parum sonamus ") owing to his state, 
borne down as he is by pains of body and soul. He was unable to 
summon up the force to write either the continuation of his w r ork 

1 P. 743. 2 Ib., 6. p. 379. 3 /&., 5, p. 380. 

* P. 739. 5 P. 745. 6 P. 746. 7 P. 746. 

8 P. 750. Pp. 744, 750 f. 10 P. 751. 

11 P. 754. To Ratzeberger, Court Physician to the Elector, Aug. 6, 
1545 : " credo, nos esse tubom illam novissimam, qua prceparatur e 
prcecurrilur advent us Christi." Cp. above, vol. v., p. 239. 


against the Pope, or even the short reply to the Swiss which lie had 
promised Amsdorf. 1 

The above false report of the Christian embassy to Turkey 
current at Wittenberg he was at once ready to accept because it 
was in keeping with his pessimistic outlook. The evil spirits of 
suspicion, distrust and the mania of persecution made his 
unhappy mind willing to credit everything that was unfavourable, 
and even embittered the life of those about him. Melanchthon in 
particular suffered under this mood ow y ing to his disposition to 
find a modus vivendi with the Swiss, whilst all the while con 
cealing his leanings under a prudent and timid silence. 2 

" The wild and immoral life at Wittenberg, a town so greatly 
favoured by God," 3 and the danger this spelt to the good name 
of the whole of Luther s work stung him now more keenly than 
ever before. Of his own remorse of conscience we hear nothing 
at this time ; his letters even to his intimates, usually so com 
municative, are silent as to any temptations or inward conflicts 
with the devil. There is no doubt that public affairs were then 
weighing more heavily on him, for instance the troubles arising 
from the Hessian bigamy. He was now again suffering from 
calculus. " I would dearly like to die," he writes, " a plague on 
these excruciating pains ! If, however, it is the Will of God that 
I succumb to them, He will give me grace to endure them and to 
die, if not sweetly, at least bravely ! "* 

When his physical sufferings diminished there came to his 
mind the recollection of how, more than a year before, early 
in 1544, he had determined to leave Wittenberg, of which he 
had sickened, in order to seek a more peaceful life elsewhere. 
It was only the extraordinary exertions of his friends that 
had then succeeded in keeping him back. Bugenhagen and 
the other preachers, the University and the magistrates, had 
besought him with tears and entreaties. On that occasion 
he was " incensed," so Cruciger, his friend and pupil, says, 
" at some trivial matter, or rather he was full of suspicion 
about us all, as I believe." 5 Already in 1530, and again in 
1539, he had declared that, owing to the annoyance given 
him, he would never again mount the pulpit at Wittenberg. 6 
Now, however, his chagrin was even deeper and he resolved 
to carry out his plan prudently and quit the town for ever. 

1 P. 740. 2 See below, p. 352. 

J KOstJin-Kawerau, 2, p. 606. 

4 To Amsdorf, June 15, 1545, " Brief e," 5, p. 743. 

6 " Corp. ref.," 5, p. 513. Cp. also the passage quoted above, vol. v., 
p. 237. 

* For the breaking off of the sermons in 1530 see above, p. 168. We 
read in the " Historien " of Mathesius, that Luther " In [16]39 said 
wildly that he would never again get up in the pulpit." 


Without acquainting even Catherine Bora of the length 
of his absence from the town he left Wittenberg at the end 
of July accompanied by his son Hans, his guest Ferdinand 
von Maupis, travelling with Cruciger, who was to decide a 
quarrel between Medler and Mohr, the two Naumburg 
preachers at Zeitz, on July 27. Luther also repaired to 
Zeitz and took part in the negotiations, but instead of 
returning with Cruciger to Wittenberg, he wrote a letter to 
Katey from Zeitz on the 28th, 1 stating that he had no 
intention of returning to Wittenberg. " My heart has 
grown cold so that I no longer like being there ; I advise 
you to sell the garden and courtyard, the house and stabling ; 
then I would make over the big house [the old monastery in 
which Luther used to live] to my gracious Lord, and it 
would be best for you to settle down at Zulsdorf [i.e. on her 
own little property] while I am yet alive." 2 He hoped, he 
goes on, that the Elector would continue to pay him his 
stipend as professor, " at least during the last year of his 

From the letter it is plain that it was annoyance at the 
decline of morals in the town rather than any strained 
relations with his friends at Wittenberg that drove him to 
this sudden decision. " Let us begone out of this Sodom ! " 
he writes and hints that, in addition to the disorders with 
which he was already acquainted fresh scandals had reached 
his ears on this journey ; the " government," i.e. the author 
ities, aroused his deepest indignation. " There is no one to 
punish or restrain, and besides this the Word of God is 
derided " ; maybe the town " will catch the Beelzebub- 
dance, now that they have begun to uncover the women 
and girls [an allusion to the low-cut dresses] m front and 
behind." " So I will wander about and rather eat the bread 
of charity than allow my last days to be tortured and upset 
by the disorderly life at Wittenberg and see all my hard 

1 " Brief e," 5, p. 752 f. 

- On Catherine s position at Wittenberg the following words speak 
volumes : " After my death the four elements [Faculties] at Witten 
berg will most likely not put up with you, hence it would be better that 
what there is to do were done during my lifetime." Luther was right in 
his anticipations. After his decease the sad fate of a poor parson s 
widow was not spared her. In countless petitions to the King of 
Denmark, Dr. Martin s widow had year by year to beg for support 
now that everyone looks at me askance and no one comes to my 
assistance. " Hausrath, " Luthers Leben," 2, p. 497 f. 


work brought to nought. You may tell Dr. Pommer and 
Master Philip of this if you please," he concludes, " and see 
whether Dr. Pommer will bid farewell to Wittenberg for me, 
for I can no longer contain my anger and annoyance." 

The Wittenberg notabilities were filled with consternation 
on hearing of what Luther had done ; they could not 
regard it as a mere passing whim, for they knew Luther s 
determination. The University made representations in 
writing to the Elector, begging him to intervene to prevent 
such a misfortune ; the foes of the Evangel would rejoice at 
the departure of the great teacher, other professors would 
leave, and the result would be new dissensions. 1 As we 
know, Melanchthon, by his own account, was ready " to 
slink away." Luther, so the University stated, like a new 
Elias, was the chariot and horseman of Israel and quite 
indispensable ; if he wished any changes made and order 
established this would be done even should he find " fault 
with the teaching of some." The University also sent 
Bugenhagen and Melanchthon to talk the matter over with 
Luther ; the town despatched its burgomaster and the 
Elector sent him his own medical attendant, Ratzeberger, 
with a friendly letter. 2 

In the meantime Luther had left Zeitz and gone on to 
Merseburg, whither he had been invited by George of Anhalt, 
formerly canon of the chapter there. The latter had gone 
over to Protestantism, and, when the bishopric was seques 
trated in 1541 by a secular prince August, the brother 
of Duke Maurice of Saxony was appointed " spiritual 
administrator " of the see. He now wanted to be formally 
" consecrated " by Luther as bishop of Merseburg. To this 
the latter readily agreed. On Aug. 2, with the assistance of 
Jonas, Pfeffinger and others he reiterated the ceremonial 
which he had once before performed on Amsdorf at Naum- 
burg (above, vol. v., p. 194). 

The festivities at Merseburg, the kindness and hospitality 
of which he was the recipient at Lobnitz and Leipzig, and, 
lastly, the change of air and surroundings brought Luther 
to a much better frame of mind. 

The messengers from Wittenberg found him at Merseburg. 
After they had seen him and listened to his stern admoni- 

1 Cp. Cruciger, " Corp. ref.," 5, p. 313. 

2 Ratzeberger, " Gesch.," p. 125. 


tions, they were delighted to receive his assurance that, 
after all, he would return to Wittenberg. His resolve had, 
in fact, been merely the result of strong excitement. Now, 
moreover, not only had the depression ceased of which he 
had so long been the victim but a notable change of mood 
had supervened and his confidence and courage had been 
restored. Such sudden changes are not without their 
parallel in Luther s earlier life, as has been sufficiently 
shown above. 

He now returned in a better temper to Leipzig, where he 
preached a vigorous sermon on Aug. 12, and was there 
entertained by Camerarius, Melanchthon s confidant ; he 
also "associated with his circle of friends in the best of 
humours." 1 

After his return to Wittenberg on the 16th we hear no 
more of his vexation, though he did not put much faith in 
the disciplinary measures that had been drawn up for the 
town, notwithstanding that they were backed by the Elector ; 
the Court itself, so he wrote, read nothing and only scoffed at 
everything. 2 

He now threw himself once more into the struggle with 
his theological foes. A glance at these labours and at his 
lectures shows him working at high pressure, while, as his 
letters show, he retained his sense of humour. 

He set to work immediately on the 32 articles which the 
Louvain Faculty of Theology had published with the object of 
enlightening Catholics on the nature of the Protestant doctrines. 

Already in Aug. he had set up his 76 theses " Against the 
Articles of the Theologists of Louvain." 3 Here he does not take 
his opponents seriously, but, for the most part, simply pours 
forth his annoyance on them and their theses, sneering at them 
and scourging them with coarse invective. He calls them arch- 
idolaters, a school of blockheads, lazy bellies and rude asses, the 
accursed, hellish brew of Louvain ; speaks of their mad, raving 

1 Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 608. What Aurifaber relates in the 
German Table-Talk of a conversation of Luther s on the bigamy of 
Philip of Hesse " at Leipzig in 1545 during a convivial gathering " 
(Erl. ed., 61, p. 302) rests on a false chronology and only repeats a 
conversation which took place much earlier. For the incorrectness of the 
the date given, see Cristiani in the " Revue des questions historiques," 
91, 1912, p. 113. 

! " Brief wechsel," ed. Burkhardt, p. 482 f. 

3 In Latin in " Opp. lat. var.," 4, p. 480 sqq. German according 
to the Wittenberg original ed. of 1545, in Erl. ed., 65, p. 170 ff. 


conceit ; they are bloodthirsty incendiaries and fratricides, a 
stinking cesspool, a school of obscenity and muck, are these great, 
gross epicurean swine of Louvain. " They come straight from 
hell and teach what they have seen in the Mirror of Marcolfus, 1 
i.e. the ordure of man-made laws." " For, instead of giving the 
people Holy Scripture, they do nothing else but cack, spew, 
belch forth and fling human filth amongst them. . . . Arid thus 
Holy Church is to be looked upon as 110 better than a latrine for 
the scamps of Louvain wherein they, playing the lord, may void 
their belly when over-full, and where, moreover, they slay and 
lay waste. This indeed may be termed foolery and raving ! " 2 
The strange elation in which Luther penned so odd-sounding 
a " reply " is, again, not to be explained by any ordinary 

In Sep. Luther commenced a work on a larger scale against t he 
Louvain theologians and their Paris colleagues, which, however, 
he was not able to finish. The fragment " Against the Donkeys in 
Paris and Louvain," which exists in two drafts, show r s plainly 
enough what sort of book it would have been had death not 
interrupted his work. He urges that, whoever wishes to teach 
theology whilst refusing to acknowledge the truths taught by him 
concerning the Law, sin and Grace, is as w T ell fitted to do so as an 
ass is to play upon the harp, as the Papacy is to govern the 
Church, or as the Louvain scholars to promote the cause of 
learning. 3 In this work he fancied he had recovered his olden 
stormy vigour. To his friend Jacob Probst he candidly admitted : 
" I am more angry with these Louvain quadrupeds than beseems 
me, an old man and so great a theologian ; but I want it to be 
said of me that I took the field against these monsters of Satan, 
even though it should cost me my last breath." 4 

He was busy at the same time on a revised edition of his Latin 
" Chronology of the World," of which the aim was to show the 
near advent of Christ. 5 On Oct. 16 he finished his Latin Com 
mentary on the Prophet Osee, and sent a copy as a gift to Mohr, 
the dismissed pastor of Zeitz, with a kindly letter of religious 
consolation and encouragement. 6 He also despatched a lengthy 
circular to the printers on the capture of Duke Henry of Bruns 
wick, the enemy of the Evangel ; this letter is a monument to his 
aggressiveness so nearly verging on the fanatical ; 7 in this he 
had been strengthened by the supposed intervention of heaven 
on his behalf against Henry and against the Pope and the 
Mass. 8 

His intimate correspondence was also steeped in the new 
enthusiasm which had laid hold on him. " What a joyful victory 

1 See above, vol. iii., p. 268. 

2 Theses 31 and 32, p. 173. 

3 Cp. Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 609. 

4 Letter of Jan. 17, 1546, " Briefe," 5, p. 778. 

5 See vol. iii., p. 147. 6 " Briefe," 5, p. 761 

7 Above, vol. v., p. 394 f. 

8 Cp. " Theol. Stud, und Krit.," 1894, p. 771 f. 


has God, Who hearkens to our prayer, given us," so he wrote on 
Oct. 26 to Jonas. " Let us believe and let us pray ! He is 
faithful to His promises ! . . . O God, do Thou maintain our joy, 
or, rather, Thine Own Glory ! " l 

The jokes we had missed for a while now once more made their 
appearance in his letters. In the first epistle written after his 
return he hastens to tell Amsdorf of Mutian s reading of the 
inscription " Soli Deo gloria " (viz. " To the Sun-God be glory ") 
on a tower belonging to the Archbishop of Mayence ; after all 
the " Satan of Mayence " was perhaps right, so he says, in having 
the inscription taken down. 2 In another letter he cheerfully 
relates the old tale of the peasant who, with hands devoutly 
folded, said to Satan : " Thou art my Gracious Master the 
Devil." 3 He is also delighted to be able to tell the story of a 
Popish preacher, who, before the war, exhorting the people to 
pray for the Duke of Brunswick, had said : " If he is worsted 
then 14 parsons will be had for the price of a penny." 4 

His last lecture was delivered just before Christinas, 1545, 
when he ended his exposition of Genesis. At its close he said : 
" Here you have our dear Genesis ; God grant that, after me, 
someone may do it better ; I am weak and can go on no longer ; 
pray that God may grant me a happy deathbed." 5 But his 
"weakness" was merely temporary. A little after he wrote: 
" Whoever must fall let him fall if he refuses to listen to the Son 
of God. We pray and look for the day of our deliverance and 
destruction of the world with its pomps and wickedness. Would 
that it come speedily. Amen. I have taken the field against the 
donkeys of Louvain and Paris, but, nevertheless, feel pretty well, 
considering my advanced years." 6 

Impelled by the ardent desire to do something for the 
furtherance of peace within his camp, in spite of his bodily 
weakness and his distaste for \vorldly business, he under 
took at the request of Count Albert of Mansfeld to act as 
arbiter in the dispute between the latter and his brother and 
nephew concerning the royalties from the mines and certain 
other legal claims. 

" My time is entirely taken up," so he says, " with affairs 
which do not in the least interest me ; I must serve the belly 
and the table." 7 Already at the beginning of October these 
matters had induced him, with Melanchthon and Jonas, to 
proceed to Mansfeld. As soon as his course of lectures was 
finished, viz. at Christmas, he again repaired thither, in spite 

1 " Briefe," 5, p. 764 f. 

2 Aug. 19, 1545, ib., p. 757. 3 16., p. 768. 4 P. 769. 

6 " Opp. lat. exeg.," 11, p. 325. 

To Amsdorf, Jan. 19, 1546, " Briefe," 5, p. 780. 

7 To Prince George, Administrator of Meraeburg, Oct., 1545, ib., 
p. 769. 


of the severity of the weather, again accompanied by 
Mclanchthon, who was inclined to grumble at being called 
upon to listen to the squabbles of quarrelsome people. 
Luther, however, as he wrote to Count Albert, wished to 
see the " beloved lords of his native land reconciled and on 
good terms " before " laying himself to rest in his coffin." 1 
He returned to Wittenberg shortly after Christmas, owing 
to Melanchthon s falling ill. 

These two journeys to Mansfeld, afterwards to be followed 
by a third and last, have, by controversialists, wrongly been 
made out to have been due to Luther s desire to escape from 
Wittenberg on account of his bitter experiences there. 

2. Last Troubles and Cares 
Theological Disruption 

" The sad controversies of the last few years had made 
Luther recognise that a race of theological fighting-cocks, 
gamesters and idle rioters had arisen, and that dissensions 
of the worst sort might be anticipated in the future. The 
nation in which each one obstinately followed his own way 
was beyond help. . . . The Swiss refused to have anything 
to do with the German Reformation ; the Bucerites held 
themselves aloof from both Lutherans and Swiss, the 
Brandenburgers wanted to belong neither to the Church of 
Home nor to that of Wittenberg ; at Wittenberg itself the 
Martinians and the Philippists (so-called after Luther and 
Melanchthon) were hostile to each other, and finally the 
Princes and magistrates all went their own way. Things 
will fare badly when I am dead, such was Luther s repeated 
prediction. Whether he looked at this Prince of the Church, 
at that Landgrave, or that other Duke Maurice, there 
was not one in whom he could entirely trust. More than 
one Mene Tckcl was written on the wall, yet none perceived 
it save the old man at Wittenberg at whom they all shrugged 
their shoulders." 2 

Such is the description by Luther s latest Protestant 
biographer of the " sad decline of the Evangelical party." 

The Zwinglians had received a severe blow from Luther 
in his " Kurtz Bekentnis " of Sep., 1544 ; 3 but the Swiss, 

1 To Count Albert of Mansfeld, Dec. 6, 1545, " Briefe," 5, p. 771. 

2 Hausrath, " Leben Luthers," 2, p. 483. 

3 See above, vol. v., p. 261. 


who were hardy and independent fellows, soon prepared a 
furious counter-reply. 1 The " old man at Wittenberg " was 
not deceived as to the profound and irremediable breach, yet 
he succeeded, at least outwardly, in driving away his annoy 
ance and cares by the use of ridicule. Early in 1546, to one 
of his confidants who had bewailed the new step taken by 
the Swiss, he wrote the following, which forms his last 
utterance against the Zwinglians : " If they condemn me, it 
is a joy to me. For by my writing I wished to do nothing 
else than force them to declare themselves my open foes. 
I have succeeded in this, hence so much the better. To 
adapt the words of the Psalmist : Blessed is the man who 
hath not sat in the council of the Sacramentarians, nor stood 
in the way of the Zwinglians, nor sat in the chair of the men 
of Zurich." 2 To another intimate, Amsdorf, the " Bishop " 
of Naumburg, who was allowed a deeper insight into his soul 
than others, Luther confided that one of the principal 
reasons of his hatred of his competitors in Switzerland and 
South-West Germany was that " they are proud, fanatical 
men, and also idlers. At the beginning of our enterprise, 
when I was fighting all alone in fear and dread against the 
fury of the Pope, they were bravely silent and waited to see 
how things would go. Later on they suddenly posed as 
victors, and as though, forsooth, they alone had done it all. 
So it ever is : one does the work and another seeks to enjoy 
his labour. Now they even go so far as to attack me, who 
won their freedom for them. . . . But they will find their 
judge. If I answer them at all it will be nothing more than 
a brief recapitulation of the sentence of condemnation 
irrevocably passed upon them." 3 No such answer was, 
however, to be forthcoming. 

Against Melanchthon Luther s ardent followers, the 
Martinians, were, as we know, highly incensed for attempt 
ing to modify the doctrines of the Master. Melanchthon s 
sufferings on this account have already been described 
(vol. v., p. 252 ff.). With a grudging silence Luther bore 

1 " Orthodoxa Tigurinae ecclesiae ministrorum confessio . . . cum 
responsione ad vanas et offendiculi plenas D. Martini calumnias, con- 
denmationes et convicia, etc.," 1545. 

2 To Jakob Probst, Jan. 17, 1546, " Briefe," 4, p. 778. Cp. Ps. 1, 1 : 
" Beatua vir qui non abiit in consilio impiorum ct in ria peccatorum non 
stetit et in cathedra pestilentice non sedit." 

3 April 14, 1545. " Briefe," 5, p. 728, 


with his friend s Zwinglian leanings on the doctrine of the 
Supper, and with their other differences. 

Both, moreover, were surrounded by an atmosphere of 
theological bickerings, " where individuals, who, had it not 
been for these squabbles, would never have achieved 
notoriety, gave themselves great airs." 1 

We may recall how Melanchthon had even thought of 
leaving Saxony, where, as he wrote to Camerarius, he was 
bound down by undignified fetters ; such \vas his weakness, 
however, that he could not bring himself to do even this. 
Luther s coarseness, lack of consideration and dictatorial 
bearing it was that led Melanchthon to say that he who 
ruled at Wittenberg was not a Pericles, but a new Cleon and 
an unsufferable tyrant. 2 

On the question of the veneration of the Sacrament differ 
ences at last sprung up even between Bugenhagen and 
Luther ; the former, usually his pliant instrument, took 
upon himself during Luther s absence to abolish at Witten 
berg the elevation of the elements during the celebration. 
Apparently this was in the second half of Jan., 1542. Luther 
expressed his disapproval of this action and declared he 
would revive the rite. 3 In 1544, when the three Princes of 
Anhalt were at Wittenberg and asked him whether it would 
be right to abolish the Elevation, he replied : " On no 
account ; such abrogation detracts from the dignity of the 
Sacrament." There is no doubt that it was his antagonism 
to the Zwinglians that was here the determining factor ; 
moreover, as he admitted Christ to be present in the Sacra 
ment during reception in the wider sense, i.e. during the 
liturgical action, he had no theological grounds for doing 
away with the elevation and adoration of the elements. In 
his own justification he went so far as to say : " Christ is in 
the bread, why then should He not be treated with the 
greatest respect and also be adored ? " 4 

1 Hausrath, ib., 2, p. 469. 

2 See Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 570. He was referring to Luther s 
attitude towards the lawyers. On Melanchthon s earlier plan of leaving 
the town, see above, vol. iii., p. 370 f. 

3 Cp. No. 16 of the Theses " Wider die Theologisten zu Loven," 
Erl. ed., 65, p. 171, and the passage from Mathesius quoted in the 
following note. 

* Mathesius, " Tischredeii," p. 341 with Kroker s remarks ; the 
latter places this important utterance recorded by Besold (1544) in its 
right chronological setting, as against Loesche and Kostlin, Hfre 

VI, 2 A 


The Lutheran preacher Wolferinus of Eisleben was in the 
habit of pouring back into the barrel what remained of the 
consecrated Wine after communion. Luther called him 
sharply to account, as he found that his conduct was tainted 
with Zwinglianism ; in order to evade the difficulty he 
ordered that, in future, preachers and communicants should 
see that nothing was left over after communion. 1 

Luther, towards the end of his life, had to taste a good 
deal of that " theological ire " of which Melanchthon fre 
quently speaks, and not only from the Swiss. We need only 
call to mind Johann Agricola, and his " antinomian sow- 
theology," as Melanchthon termed it. His inferences from 
Luther s doctrine of the inability of man to fulfil the Law he 
never really withdrew even when he had betaken himself to 
Brandenburg. In the Table-Talk dating from the latest 
period and published by Kroker, Luther s frequent bitter 
references to Agricola show the speaker was well aware that 
his Berlin opponent still hated and distrusted him as much 
as ever. After Luther s death it became evident that 
Agricola " was capable of everything," and that Luther was 
not so far wrong, when, on another occasion, he declared 
that he was not a man to be taken seriously. 2 Agricola 
finally died, loaded with worldly honours, in 1566. 

A more serious critic of Luther, at any rate on the question 
of the Sacrament, was Martin Bucer. The latter s friend 
ship with the Swiss and the too independent spirit in which 
he planned the reformation of Cologne, caused Luther great 
anxiety towards the end of his life. In his plan Luther, so 
he says, was unable to find any clear confession of faith in 
the Sacrament, but merely " much idle talk of its profit, 
fruit and dignity," all carefully " wrapped up that no one 
might know what he really thought of it, just as is the way 
with the fanatics." In all this talk he could " readily discern 
the chatterbox Bucer." 3 Bucer, on his side, was dis- 

Luther says, in condemnation of processions : " Alia res eat circumferri, 
alia elevari." The Wittenberg Concord says evasively : " The Body 
of Christ is present when the bread is received, and is truly given." 
KoRtlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 346. 

1 Hausrath, " Leben Luthers," 2, p. 475. The latter says of the 
charges made by the Zwinglians : " It is not surprising that his 
opponents found that his (Luther s) obstinacy and his hatred of every 
thing Zwinglian was leading him into palpable self-contradiction." 

2 Hausrath, ib., p. 465. 

3 Hausrath, ib., p. 477 f. 


satisfied with the progress of Luther s work in Germany. 
Owing to the Interim he was no longer able to remain at 
Strasburg and accordingly accepted a post at the English 
University of Cambridge and died in England in 1551. 

The Controversy on Clandestine Marriages 

It was, however, annoyances and disagreements of a 
different sort that kept Luther to the end of his days in a 
state of extreme indignation against the lawyers and 
politicians of the Court. 

A letter of Luther s to the Elector Johann Frederick dated 
Jan. 18, 1545, on the controversy with the Saxon lawyers about 
Luther s denunciation of clandestine marriages (those entered 
upon without the knowledge of the parents) as illegal, carries us 
into the thick of these disagreements. x His sovereign, he says, had 
ordered him to confer with the lawyers and come to an arrange 
ment with them ; Luther, however, after summoning them 
before him, had declared categorically that, " I had no intention 
of holding a disputation with them ; I had a divine command to 
preach the 4th commandment 2 in these matters." Thus, in the 
questions under discussion, he is determined not to submit either 
to the secular or the canon law but only to the Divine. " Otherwise 
I should have to give up the Gospel and creep back into the cowl 
[become a monk again] in the devil s name, by the strength and 
virtue of botli the spiritual and the imperial law. And, besides 
this, your Electoral Highness would have to cut off my head, 
doing likewise with all those who have wedded nuns, as the 
Emperor Jovian commanded more than a thousand years back." 
As a result of his arguments, " the lawyers of the Consistory and 
Courts agreed to give up and reject altogether the clandestine 
espousals [i.e. marriages sponsalia de prcesenti ]." In these 
words he announces his final apparent victory in this long-drawn 

In the same letter he touches on the deeper side of the quarrel. 

The lawyers at the High Court have always stuck to many 
points of " the Pope s laws " which " we of the clergy " don t 
want. " Some, too, made out [in accordance with Canon Law 
then still in force] that, on our death, our wives and children 
could not inherit our goods and wished to adjudicate them to our 
friends, etc." They had paid no attention to the writings of the 
new theologians ; and yet the latter, " few in number and 
insignificant maybe, have done more good in the Churches than 
all the Popes and jurists in a lump." Hence the preachers had 

1 "Briefe" 5, p. 715. 

1 [The 4th Commandment, with the Lutherans as with the Catholics, 
13 that known as the 5th by Anglicans and the English sects. Note to 
the English edition.] 


simply disregarded the lawyers, viz. in respect of the clandestine 
marriages ; this had brought about peace. When, however, the 
" Consistory had been set up " (1539), the whole business had 
begun anew. " The jurists fancied they had found a loophole 
through which to raise a disturbance in my Churches with their 
damnable procedure, which, to-day and to all eternity, I want to 
have condemned and execrated in my Churches." " Spoon-fed 
jurists " thrust themselves forward ; but these " merry customers " 
are not going to make " of my Churches, for which I have to 
answer before God," "such dens of murderers." 

In order to understand the victory over the lawyers of 
which he speaks it will be necessary to cast a glance back on 
the whole struggle. 

As we have already pointed out in the words of a Protes 
tant biographer of Luther the legal status of Lutheranism 
threatened to give rise to dire complications, while any 
downright abrogation of Canon Law, such as Luther wished 
for, was out of the question. 1 The sober view of the situation 
taken by the lawyers did not deserve Luther s offensive 
treatment. Moreover, under the leadership of Schurf, the 
lay professors of jurisprudence at the Wittenberg University 
had many objections to raise against Luther s demands. 
They not only upheld clandestine marriages as valid, but, at 
the same time, defended the indissolubility of marriage, even 
in the case of adultery, in accordance with the laws of the 
olden Church ; they also held that second marriages were 
not lawful to the clergy. Schurf likewise wanted the " Evan 
gelical bishops " to be consecrated by papal bishops. A further 
cause of constant friction lay in the fact that the professors 
of law were obliged to base their lectures on the books of 
Canon Law in the absence of any others ; whence it came 
that Luther had to listen to many disagreeable references to 
the questions of Church property, of the right of inheriting 
of the children of former monks, of the marriage of nuns, of 
the legal status of the monasteries, etc. Schurf was other 
wise a good Lutheran and had assisted Luther with advice 
at the Diet of Worms. Melchior Kling, his pupil and 
colleague at Wittenberg, agreed with him in following the 
Canon Law on the question of clandestine marriages, 
according to which (before the Council of Trent had required 
for the validity of marriage, that it should be performed 
publicly in the presence of the parish-priest), they were 
1 Kostlin-Kawerau (above, vol. iv., p. 288). 


regarded as valid, albeit wrong and forbidden, so that no 
new marriage could be entered into so long as the parties 

Luther hoped, by opposing such marriages, to bring about 
some improvement in the sad state of morals which the 
Visitations of 1528 and 1529 had disclosed in the Saxon 
Electorate. The facility with which such marriages were 
contracted by the Wittenberg students, and the bad effect 
they had on the peace of the burghers seemed to him a real 
blot on the New Evangel. He insisted very strongly that 
the consent of the parents was required as a condition for 
marriage ; without the parents consent the marriages were 
in his eyes neither public nor valid ; it was only where the 
parents refused their consent on insufficient grounds that he 
would admit that the bride had any right to enter into a real 
marriage contract. The decision as to whether the parents 
objections held good was, however, one on which opinions 
were bound to differ. 

Shortly after the Visitations referred to above, in 1529, 
he wrote his "Von Ehesachen," published early in 1530; in 
it he declared : "A secret betrothal simply constitutes no 
marriage whatsoever," whilst, as a secret bethrothal (i.e. 
invalid marriage) he regards " any betrothal which takes 
place without the knowledge and consent of those in 
authority, and who have the right and power to settle the 
marriage, viz. the father, mother or whoever stands in 
their stead." 1 

In 1532 he also proclaimed his views against the lawyers 
from the pulpit without, however, being able to alter there 
by either their practice or their teaching. He lamented in 
1538 the blindness of Schurf, who paid more attention to 
man-made laws than to God s Word and authority. 2 

After some new disputes he delivered a sermon on Feb. 23, 
1539, in which he threatened to put on his horns. In it he- 
called his opponents blockheads ; they ought " to reverence 
our doctrine as the Word of God, coming from the mouth of 
the Holy Ghost." 3 He was not going to worship the Pope s 
ordure for the sake of the jurists ; "let them let our Church 
be " ; but " now the lawyers are seeking to corrupt our 
young students of theology with their Papal filth." 4 

1 Weim. ed., 30, 3, p. 207 : Erl. ed., 23, p. 95 f. 

2 Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 469 f. 3 See vol. iv., p 289 f . 
4 " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 1, p. 292. 


Schurf seems to have yielded so far as no longer to 
attempt to make his opinions publie or official. 

The greatest tussle, however, ensued on the establishment 
of the Consistories in 1539, as the lawyers who were entrusted 
with the matrimonial cases, treated the clandestine marriages 
as valid, and, in other ways, also took Schurf s side. 

Luther asserted that by countenancing the " espousals," 
which were " an institution of the devil and the Pope," the 
good name and the morals of Wittenberg were being under 
mined. " Many of the parents say that, when they send 
their boys to us to study, we hang wives round their necks 
and rob them of their children." Not only the burghers and 
students but even the girls themselves " who have waxed 
bold " use their freedom most wantonly. 1 In Jan., 1544, in 
the pulpit, he poured out his wrath in most unmeasured lan 
guage, particularly on the second Sunday after the Epiphany ; 
in his tragic delivery he said, for instance : "I, Martin 
Luther, preacher in this Church of Christ, take thee, secret 
promise and the paternal consent that follows, together with 
the Pope and the devil who instituted thee, I bind you all 
together and fling you into the abyss of hell, in the name of 
the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost." 2 

His anger and annoyance had been aroused by certain 
concrete cases. 

One of Melanchthon s sons had contracted such a marriage 
as he was denouncing. In his own family circle the same 
thing happened, probably in the case of his nephew, Fabian 
Kaufmami. A student, Caspar Beier, who was on intimate 
terms with Luther s household, wished to marry at Witten 
berg, but was prevented by the lawyers of the Consistory on 
account of a previous clandestine marriage which, however, 

1 To the Elector Johann Frederick, Jan. 22, 1544, " Brief e," 5, 
p. 614. 

3 Kdstlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 570. The text is embodied in the German 
Table-Talk, Erl. ed., 62, p. 240. See in vol. iii., p. 39 ff. some further utter 
ances of Luther s on the marriages in question. The allusion above to 
" the paternal consent that follows " is probably to be understood as 
referring to the unlawfulness of any subsequent ratification by the 
parents. Such in any case was Luther s view : "In his eyes the secret 
betrothals were sinful, even when the consent was obtained afterwards, 
nay actually invalid," Kawerau, 2, p. 570. After Luther s " victory " 
in 1545 it was, however, decided that such marriages should be null and 
void until the parents gave their consent, or until the Consistories had 
determined whether the parents refusal was based on valid, important 
or sufficient grounds. 


he denied ; he appealed from the Consistory to the sovereign, 
and was supported by a letter from Luther. This quarrel 
kindled a conflagration at Luther s home. Cruciger, a 
friend of the house, was against Beier and described his 
cause as " none of the best " ; Catherine Bora, on the other 
hand, the "fax domestica" as Cruciger called her, 1 seems to 
have fanned the flames of Luther s wrath, in the interests of 
Beier who was a relative of hers. 

To a friend Luther admitted in Jan. that he "was so 
indignant with the lawyers as he had never before been in 
all his life during all the struggle on behalf of the Evangel." 2 

When the controversy was at its height, viz. in Jan., 1544, 
the Elector arranged for an interview between Luther and 
the Consistory. Later, in Dec., those negotiations were 
followed by others, in which the members of the Wittenberg 
High Court took part ; at last Luther s obstinacy and 
violence won the day : All marriages without the knowledge 
or approval of the parents were to be invalid until the latter 
consented, or the Consistory had pronounced their opposition 
groundless. To the Elector, who from the first had agreed 
with Luther s view, the latter then addressed the letter 
referred to above (p. 355) where, appealing to his " Divine 
mission " to preach the 4th commandment, he announces 
his final triumph over the lawyers and their edicts. 

His triumph he owed to his strong will and, also, possibly, 
to the fact that the Elector was on his side. The victory 
also affected the case of Beier, whom Luther hastened to 
acquaint of his freedom ; 3 it further decided to some extent, 
the yet more important question whether or not the lawyers 
were to yield to Luther in ecclesiastical matters. They 
accepted their humiliation with the best grace possible, but 
we shall not be far wrong in assuming that they were not 
over-pleased with Luther s irregular and illogical handling of 
questions of law. 

1 Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, pp. 571, 687, n. " Fax domestica," see above, 
vol. iii., p. 216. 

2 To Spalatin, Jan. 30, 1544, " Briefe," 5, p. 626. 

3 To Caspar Beier, Jan. 27, 1545, Ci Briefe," 5, p. 721 : " Respondc 
amori te amantis el anxic cxpectcuitis, nihil moratus Satance et Satanic-arum 
verba, quorum mundus 


Difficulties with the State Church 

The far-reaching encroachments of the secular authorities 
in his Church became for Luther in his later years a source 
of keen vexation. 

Much of his Table-Talk, which turns on the lawyers, voices 
nothing more than his indignation at the unwarranted inter 
ference of the State in his new Church which he \vas powerless to 
prevent. Thus, according to notes made at this time by Hiero- 
iiymus Besold of Nuremberg who was a guest at Luther s table 
in 1545, the Master on one occasion gave free rein to his anger with 
the lawyers in the matter of the sequestration of Church lands : 
" The lawyers shriek, They are Church lands. Give them back 
their monasteries that they may become monks and nuns and 
celebrate Mass, and then they too will allow you to preach. [In 
other words their proposal was that the new faith should make 
its way peacefully. To this Luther s answer is] : Yes, but then 
where are we to get our bread and butter ? We leave that to 
you, they say. Yes, and take the devil s thanks ! We theo 
logians have 110 worse enemies than the lawyers. If they are 
asked, What is the Church ? they reply, The assembly of the 
Bishops, Abbots, etc. And these lands are the lands of the 
Church, hence they belong to the bishops. That is their dialectics. 
But we have another dialectics at the right hand of the Father 
and it tella us, They are tyrants, wolves and robbers [and 
must accordingly be deprived of the lands]. Therefore we 
here condemn all lawyers, even the pious ones, for they know 
not what the Church is. If they search through all their books 
they will not discover what the Church is. Hence we are not 
going to take any reforms from them. Every lawyer is either a 
miscreant or an ignoramus (" Omnis iurista est nequista aut 
ignorista"). . . . They shall not teach us what Church is. 
There is an old proverb, A good lawyer makes a bad Christian, 
and it is a true one." 1 

It is somewhat astonishing to hear Luther in his " Table-Talk 
on the lawyers " 2 declaring that it was he who had whitewashed 
these " bad Christians " and made them to be respected, and that 
consequently he also could bring them again into disrepute, in 
other words, that his tongue was powerful enough to do and to 
undo. " Do not tempt me. If you are too well off I can soon 
make things warm for you. If you don t like being whitewashed, 
well and good, I can soon paint you black again. May the devil 
make you blush ! " 3 In one of his very last letters (Feb., 1546), 
owing to new friction with the lawyers about the Mansfeld 
revenues, lie overwhelms them all with the following general 

1 Mathesius, " Tisehreden," p. 340. Cp. " Aufzeichn.," p. 355 f. 
and Erl. ed., 62, pp. 95 and 282. 

- Erl. ed., 62, p. 214 ff. and " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 1, p. 287 sqq. 
3 Erl. ed., 62, p. 245. 


charges : " The lawyers have taught the whole world such a 
mass of artifices, deceptions and calumnies that their very 
language lias become an utter Babel. At Babel no one could 
understand his neighbour, but here nobody wants to understand 
what the other means. Out upon you, you sycophants, sophists 
and plague-boils of the human race ! I write in anger, whether, 
were I calm, I should give a better report I know not. But the 
wrath of God is upon our sins. The Lord will judge His people ; 
may He be gracious to His servants. Amen. If this is all the 
wisdom that the jurists can show then there is really no need for 
them to be so proud as they all are." 1 

Luther s attitude towards the lawyers is of special im 
portance from two points of view. It shows afresh the high 
opinion he entertained of himself, and, at the same time, 
it reveals his jealousy of any outside influence. 

" Before my time there was not a lawyer," he says for instance 
in an earlier outburst, " who knew what it meant to be righteous. 
They learnt it from me. In the Gospel there is nothing about the 
duty of worshipping jurists. Yes, before the world I will allow 
them to be in the right, but, before God, they shall be beneath me. 
If I can judge of Moses and bring him into subjection [i.e. 
criticise the Law in the light of the Gospel] what then of the 
lawyers ? ... If of the two one must perish, then let the law go 
and let Christ remain." 2 He was not learned in the law, but, as 
the proclaimer of the Evangel, he was " the supreme law in the 
field of conscience ( ego sum ius iuriutn in re conscientiarum *)." 3 

" When I give an opinion and have to break my head over it 
and a lawyer comes along and tries to dispute it, I say : * Do you 
look after the Government and leave us in peace. You men of 
the law seek to oppress us, but it is written : Thou art a priest for 
ever " (Ps. ex. 4).* "The justice of the jurists is heathen 
justice," he says ; but, after all, even the justice [righteousness] 
of his own school of theology fell short of the mark. " Our 
justice is a relative justice ; but if I am not pious yet Christ is 
pious ; we are at least able to expound the commandments of 
God, and do so in the course of our calling. But, even if you distil 
a jurist five times over, he still cannot interpret even one of the 
Commandments. 6 

The other trait that conies out in his dealings with the lawyers 
is his distaste for any outside interference with his Church. He 
looked askance at the attempts of secular authorities, statesmen 
and Court-lawyers to have a say in Church matters, which, 
strictly, should have been submitted to him alone and his 

1 To Melanchthon, Feb. 6, 1546, " Briefe," 5, p. 785. 
~ Schlaginhaufen, " Aufzeichn.," p. 3. 

3 /&., p. 14, and see above, vol. iv., p. 289 f. 

4 Schlaginhaufen. ib., p. 81. 

6 From the sermon of Feb. 23, 1539, " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 2, 
. 295. 


preachers. Yet it was he himself who had put the Church under 
State control ; he had invited the sovereigns and magistrates to 
decide on the most vital questions, doing so partly owing to the 
needs of the time, partly as a logical result of the new system. 
He himself had legalised the sequestration of the Church s lands 
and had helped to set up the State Consistories. So long as the 
secular authorities were of his way of thinking he left them a free 
hand, more or less. He was, however, forced to realise more and 
more, particularly in the evening of his days, that their arbitrary 
behaviour was ruining his influence and only making worse the 
evils that his work had laid bare to the world. 

In his last utterances he is fond of calling " Centaurs " the 
officials and Court personages who, according to him, were 
stifling the Church in her growth by their wantonness, ambition 
and avarice. He bewails his inability to vanquish them ; they 
are a necessary evil. " Make a Visitation of your Churches all 
the same," he told his friend Amsdorf, early in January in the last 
year of his life ; " the Lord will be with you, and even should one 
or other of the Centaurs forbid you, you are excused. Let them 
answer for it." 1 

We have also other utterances which testify to his deep 
distrust of the secular authorities, on account of their real or 
imaginary encroachments. 

" The Princes seize upon all the lands of the Church and leave 
the poor students to starve, and thus the parishes become 
desolate, as is already the case." 2 " The Princes and the towns 
do little for the support of our holy religion, leave everything in 
the lurch and do not punish wickedness. Highly dangerous times 
are to come." 3 "The magistrates misuse their power against 
the Evangel ; for this they will pay dearly." 4 " The politicians 
show that they regard our words as those of men " ; in this case 
we had better quit " Babylon " and leave them to themselves. 6 

" I see what is coming," he wrote in 1541, " unless the tyranny 
of the Turk assists us by frightening our [lower] nobles and 
humbling them, they will ill treat us worse than do the Turks. 
Their only thought is to put the sovereigns in leading-strings and 
to lay the burghers and peasants in irons. The slavery of the 
Pope will be followed by a new enslaving of the people under the 
nobles." In the same year he says : " If the nobles go on in 
this way," i.e. neglecting their duty of " protecting the pious and 
punishing the wicked," there will be " an end of Germany and we 
shall soon be worse than even the Spaniards and Turks ; but they 
will catch it soon." 7 In 1543 he indignantly told a councillor 

1 Jan. 9, 1545, " Briefe," 5, p. 712. 
- " Colloq.," ed Bindseil, 2, p. 284. 

Lauterbach, " Tagebuch," p. 193. 

Mathesius. " Aufzeiclm.," p. 290. 

To Wenceslaus Link, Sep. 8, 1541, " Briefe," 5, p. 399. 

To Anton Lauterbach. Nov. 10, 1541, ib., p. 407. 

To Duke Maurice of Saxony, 1541 (not dated), id., p. 417. 


who opposed him and his followers : " You are not lords over 
the parishes and the preaching office ; it was not you who 
founded it but the Son of God, nor have you ever given anything 
towards it, so that you have far less right to it than the devil has 
to the kingdom of heaven ; it is not for you to find fault with it, 
or to teach, nor yet to forbid the administration of punishment. 
. . . There is no shepherd-lad so humble that he will take a harsh 
word from a strange master ; it is the minister alone who must be 
the butt of everyone, and put up with everything from all, while 
they will suffer nothing from him, not even God s own Word." 1 
In 1544 he even said of his own Elector : " After all, the Court is 
of no use, its rule is like that of the crab and snail. It either 
cannot get on or else is always wanting to go back. Christ did 
well by His Church in not confiding its government to the Courts. 
Otherwise the devil would have nothing to do but to devour the 
souls of Christians." 2 " The rulers shut their eyes," lie had written 
shortly before, " they leave great wantonness unpunished, and 
now have nothing better to do than impose one tax after another 
on their poor underlings. Therefore will the Lord destroy them 
in His wrath." 3 

" What then is to become of the Church if the world does not 
shortly come to an end ? I have lived my allotted span," so he 
sighed in 1542, " the devil is sick of my life and I am sick of the 
devil s hate." 4 

He often gives vent to his wounded feelings in unseemly 
words. A strange mixture of glowing fanaticism and coarse 
jocularity flows forth like a stream of molten lava from the 
furnace within him. 

Thus we have the famous utterances recorded above (vol. iii., 
p. 233 and vol. v., p. 229) called forth by the decline of his Church, 
the carelessness of the rulers and the remissness of the preachers. 

" Our Lord God sees," he declares, " how the dogs [the princes 
who were against him] soil the pavements, wet every corner and 
smash the basins and platters ; but when He begins to visit them, 
His anger will be terrible." 5 

" To these swine," so he wrote to Anton Lauterbach of the 
politicians in the Duchy of Saxony, " we will leave their muck 
and hell-fire to boot, if they wish. But they shall leave us our 
Lord, the Son of God, and the kingdom of heaven as well ! . . . 
With a good conscience we regard them as reprobate servants of 
the devil ; ... be brave and cheerfully despise the devil in 
these devil s sons, and devil s progeny until they drive you away. 
* The earth is the Lord s and the fulness thereof (Ps xxiii. 1). ... 
By your joy you will crucify them and, with them, Satan, who 

1 To a Town Councillor, Jan. 27, 1543, ib., p. 537. 

2 To Amsdorf, July 21, 1544, ib., p. 675. 

3 To Lauterbach, April 2, 1543, ib., p. 552. 

* To Justus Menius, May 1, 1542, " Briefe," 5, p. 4(37. 
5 Schlaginhaufen, " Aufzeichn.," p. 124. 


seeks to destroy us. To speak plain German, we shall s into 

his mouth. Whether he likes it or not he must submit to having 
his head trodden under foot, however much he may seek to 
snap at us with his dreadful fangs. The seed of the woman is 
with us, whom also we teach and confess and Whom we shall 
help to the mastery. Fare you well in Him and pray for me." 1 

The minor State-officials he also handled roughly enough. 
These " Junkers " take it upon them " to sing the praises of the 
papal filth." " They stick to the Pope s behind like clotted 
manure." " I know better what lus canonicum is than you all 
will ever know or understand. It is donkey s dung, and, if you 
want it, I will readily give you it to eat ! " "If donkey s dung 
be so much to your taste, go and eat it elsewhere and do not make 
a stench in our churches." 2 

The Present and the To-come 

On his last birthday, which he kept on Martinmas-Eve, 
1545, Luther assembled about him Melanchthon, Bugcn- 
hagen, Cruciger, George Major and other guests, and to them 
opened his mind. According to the account left by his friend 
Ratzeberger he spoke of the coming dissensions : "As soon 
as he was gone the best of our men would fall away. I do not 
fear the Papists, he remarked ; they are for the most part 
rude, ignorant asses and Epicureans ; but our own brethren 
will injure the Evangel because they have gone forth from 
us but were not of us. This will do more harm to the Evangel 
than the Papists can." The sad political outlook of Germany 
led him to add : " Our children will have to take up the 
spear, for things will fare ill in Germany." Of the Catholics 
he said : " The Council of Trent is very angry and means 
mischief ; hence be careful to pray diligently, for there will 
be great need of prayer when I am gone." All, he exhorted 
" to stand fast by the Evangel." 3 

" For it is the command of our stern Lord [the Elector]," 
he says elsewhere, " that we should maintain undefiled the 
government of the Church, dispense aright the Word, the 
Absolution and the Sacraments according to the institution 
of Christ, and also comfort consciences." 4 

Towards his end, according to Ratzeberger, he frequently told 
the faithful at Wittenberg that, in order to fight shy of false 
doctrines, they must hate reason as their greatest foe. " As soon 

1 Nov. 3, 1543, " Brief e," 5, p. 598. 2 Erl ed., 62, p. 245. 
3 " Ratzebergers Gesch.," p. 131. 
Erl. ed., 62, p. 234. 


as he was dead they would preach and teach at Wittenberg a 
very different doctrine " ; hence they must " pray diligently and 
learn to prove the spirits aright " ; they were to keep their eyes 
open to see whether what was preached agreed with Holy 
Scripture (here again the right of judging falling on the simple 
faithful). But if it was " outside of and apart from God s Word, 
sweet and agreeable to reason and easy of comprehension, then 
they were to avoid such doctrine and say : No, thou hateful 
reason, thou art a whore, thee I will not follow." 1 

In a sermon on the 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany, 1546, 
published three years later after Luther s death by Stephen 
Tucher under the title "The last Sermon of Dr. Martin Luther 
of blessed memory," 2 Luther again speaks at length of the " heresi- 
archs " who had already arisen and whom more would follow ; 
what the devil had been unable to do by means of the Kaiser and 
Pope, that he " would do through those who are still at one with 
us in doctrine " ; " there will be a dreadful time. Ah, the lawyers 
and the wise men at Court will say : You are proud, a revolt will 
ensue, etc., hence let us give way. " But, in matters of faith, 
there must be no talk of giving way, " pride may well please us 
if it be not against the faith." 3 

The picture of reason as a mere prostitute was now once more 
vividly before him. He hoped to dispose of the variant doctrines 
of others, who, like himself, interpreted the Bible in their own 
fashion, simply by urging contempt for reason. The faith in his 
own teaching, so he declared, " in the doctrine which I have, not 
from them but from the Grace of God,"* must be preserved by 
means of a deadly warfare against " reason, the devil s bride and 
beautiful prostitute " ; " for she is the greatest seductress the 
devil has. The other gross sins can be seen, but reason no one is 
able to judge ; it goes its way and leads to fanaticism." The evil 
that is inherent in the flesh had not yet been completely driven 
out ; " I am speaking of concupiscence which is a gross sin and of 
which everyone is sensible." " But what I say of concupiscence, 
which is a gross sin, is also to be understood of reason, for the 
latter dishonours and insults God in His spiritual gifts and 
indeed is far more whorish a sin than whoredom." 5 When a 
Christian hears a Sacramentarian fanatic putting forward his 
reasonable grounds he ought to say to that reason, which is 
speaking : " Dear me, has the devil such a learned bride ? Away 
to the privy with you and your bride ; cease, accursed whore," 
etc. 6 Hence some restriction was to be placed on private judg 
ment ; it was to be used in moderation and only in so far as it 
tallied with faith (" secundum analogiam fidei "). 7 This " faith," 
however, was in many instances simply Luther s own. 

As Luther s personality could not replace the outward rule of 

1 " Ratzebergers Gesch.," p. 132. - Erl. ed., 20 2 , 2. p. 472 ff. 
3 /&., p. 479 f. * P. 479. 

5 P. 475. This is not the only passape in which Luther labels the 
concupiscence " which everyone feels " as a " sin. 1 
P. 481. P. 480. 


faith, viz. the authoritative voice of the teaching Church, his 
dreary prognostications were only too soon to be fulfilled. Hence 
in the appendix to another Wittenberg edition of Luther s last 
sermon these words, as early as 1558, are represented as " the 
late Dr. Martin Luther s excellent prophecies about the impending 
corruption and falling away of the chief teachers in our churches, 
particularly at Wittenberg." 1 

It is curious that, towards the close of his life, the Wittenberg 
Professor should have come again to insist so strongly on those 
points in his teaching for which he had fought at the outset, in 
spite of all the difficulties and contradictions they had been 
shown to involve, with the Bible, tradition and reason. He 
ould at least claim that he had not abandoned his olden theses of 
the blindness of reason, of the unfreedom of the will, of the sinful- 
ness of that concupiscence, from which none can get away, of the 
saving power of faith alone and the worthlessness of good works 
for the gaining of a heavenly reward, of the Bible as the sole source 
of faith and each man s right of interpreting it, and, last, but not 
least, that of his own mission and call received from God Himself. 

The decline of morals, now so obvious, was another 
phantom that haunted the evening of his days. 

In the beginning of 1546 he confided to Amsdorf his anxiety 
regarding Meissen, Leipzig and other places where licence 
prevailed, together with contempt of the Gospel and its ministers. 
" This much is certain : Satan and his whole kingdom is terribly 
wroth with our Elector. To this kingdom your men of Meissen 
belong ; they are the most dissolute folk on earth. Leipzig is 
pride and avarice personified, worse than any Sodom could be. 
... A new evil that Satan is hatching for us may be seen in the 
spread of the spirit of the Miinster Dippers. After laying hold of 
the common people this spirit of revolt against all authority has 
also infected the great, and many Counts and Princes. May God 
prevent and overreach it ! " 2 

He tells "Bishop " George of Merseburg, in Feb., 1546, that 
" steps must be taken against the scandals into which the people 
are plunging head over heels, as though all law were at an end." 
It seems to him that a new Deluge is coming. " Let us beware 
lest what Moses wrote of the days before the flood repeats itself, 
how they took to wife whomsoever they pleased, even their own 
sisters and mothers and those they had carried off from their 
husbands. Instances of the sort have reached my ear privately. 
May God prevent such doings from becoming public as in the 
case of Herod and the kings of Egypt ! " 3 " The world is full of 
Satan and Satanic men," so he groans even in an otherwise 
cheerful letter. 4 

1 P. 482. 

* Jan. 8, 1546, " Briefe," 5, p. 773 : " Spiritus Munsterianuft post 
rurtico* nunc nobiles invasit," etc. 8 Feb. 10, 1546, ib., p. 789. 
To Beier, see above, p. 359, n. 3. 


Up to the day of his death he was concerned for the 
welfare of the students at Wittenberg University. Among 
the 2000 young men at the University (for such was their 
number in Luther s last years) there were many who were in 
bitter want. Luther sought to alleviate this by attacking, 
even in his sermons, those who were bent on fleecing the 
young ; he not only gave readily out of his own slender 
means but also wrote to others asking them to be mindful of 
the students ; of this we have an instance in a note he wrote 
in his later years, in which he asks certain " dear gentlemen " 
(possibly of the University or the magistracy) for help for a 
" pious and learned fellow " who would have to leave 
Wittenberg " for very hunger " ; he declares that he himself 
was ready to contribute a share, though he was no longer able 
to afford the gifts he was daily called upon to bestow. 1 

We know how grieved he was at the downfall of the 
schools and how loud his complaints were of the lawlessness 
of youth ; how it distressed him to see the schools looked 
down upon though their contribution to the maintenance of 
the Churches was " entirely out of question." 2 

For his University of Wittenberg he requests the prayers 
of others against those who were undermining its reputation. 
He sees the small effect of his earnest exhortations to the 
students against immorality. 3 The excellent statutes he had 
laid down for the town and the University were nullified by 
the bad example of men in high places. " Ah, how bitterly 
hostile the devil is to our Churches and schools. . . . 
Tyranny and sects are everywhere gaining the upper hand 
by dint of violence. ... I believe there are many wicked 
knaves and spies here on the watch for us, who rejoice when 
scandals and dissensions arise. Hence we must watch and 
pray diligently. Unless God preserves us all is up. And so 
it looks. Pray, therefore, pray ! This school [of Witten 
berg! is as it were the foundation and stronghold of pure 
religion." 4 He once declared sadly that, among all the 
students in the town there were scarcely two from whom 
something might be hoped as future pastors of souls. " If 
out of all the young men present here two or three honest 

1 Kdstlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 495. 

2 Erl. ed., 62, p. 287. Cp. the chapter of the Table-Talk dealing 
with the " schools and universities " (ib., pp. 285-308), and " Colloq.," 
ed. Bindseil, 2, pp. 13-20 where many excellent thoughts are found. 

8 See above, vol. iv., p. 228 f. * Erl. ed., 62, p. 291 f. 


theologians grow up then we should have reason to thank 
God 1 Good theologians are indeed rare birds on this earth. 
Among a thousand you will seldom find two, or even one. 
And indeed the world no longer deserves such good teachers, 
nor does it want them ; things will go ill when I, and you 
and some few others are gone." 1 

" The world was like this before the flood, before the 
destruction of Sodom, before the Babylonian captivity, 
before the destruction of Jerusalem and so again it is 
before the fall of Germany. . . . Should you, however, ask 
what good has come of our teaching, answer me first, what 
good came of Lot s preaching in Sodom? " 2 

To divert his thoughts from these saddening cares he 
often turned to ^Esop. It is of interest to note how highly 
he always prized ^Esop s Fables, not merely as a means of 
education for the young in the elementary schools, but even 
as furnishing a stimulating topic for conversation with his 

He is very fond of adducing morals from these fables both in 
his Table-Talk and in his writings. 

^Esop s tale of the fight between the wounded snake and the 
crab he dictated to his son Hans as a Latin exercise, 3 and, in 
1540, when a Mandate of the Kaiser aroused his suspicions owing 
to its kindly wording, the old man at once related to his guests 
the fable of the wolf who seeks to lead the sheep to a good 
pasture, and declared that he could easily see through this 
" Lycophilia."* 

For a long time he had a work on hand which he was destined 
never to complete ; he was anxious to provide a new and better 
edition of ^Esop for the schools, which, so he hoped, should replace 
the, in some respects unseemly, fables of Steinhowel s edition 
then in use which had been corrupted by additions from Poggio s 
Facetiae. A series of amusing and at the same time instructive 
fables which he translated with this object in view is still extant. 
That he found time for such a work in the midst of all his other 
pressing labours is sufficient evidence that he had it much at 
heart. The Preface to his unfinished little work, which he read 
aloud to a friend in 1538, pointed out, that writings of this kind 
were intended for " children and the simple," whose mental 
development he wished to keep in view, carefully excluding any 
thing that was offensive. The collection of Fables then in 
circulation, " though written professedly for the young," un 
fortunately contained tales with narratives of " shameful and 
unchaste knavery such as no chaste or pious man, let alone any 

1 Hausrath, 2, p. 487 f. 2 Ib., p. 488. 

3 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 87. 4 /&., p. 135. 


youth, could hear or read without injury to himself ; it was as 
though the book had been written in a common house of ill fame 
or among dissolute scamps." 1 

He was very determined in putting down scandals when 
they occurred in his own home. A young relative, who was 
addicted to drunkenness, he took severely to task, pointing 
out the good example, which in the interests of the Evangel 
his household was strictly bound to give ; when the maid 
servant, Rosina, whom he had taken into his house, turned 
out a person of bad life, he could not sufficiently express his 
indignation and dismissed her from the family. A similar 
case also occurred at the time of his flight from Wittenberg 
in July, 1545 ; he writes to Catherine in the letter in which he 
tells her of his intention of not returning : "If Leek s 
4 Bachschcisse, our second Rosina and deceiver, has not yet 
been laid by the heels, do what you can that the miscreant 
may feel ashamed of herself." 2 

Catherine Bora was a good helper in matters of this sort. 
In fact she performed with zeal and assiduity the duties that 
fell to her lot in tending the aged and infirm man, and look 
ing after the house and the small property. Amidst his 
many and great difficulties he often confessed that she was a 
comfort to him, and gratefully acknowledges her work. In 
his letters to her during his later years he writes in so 
religious a strain, and in such heartfelt language, that the 
reader might be forgiven for thinking that Luther had 
entirely succeeded in forgetting the irreligious nature of the 
union between a monk and a nun. " Grace and peace in the 
Lord," he writes in a letter from Eisleben of Feb. 7, 1546, to 
his " housewife." " Read, you dear Katcy, John and the 
Smaller Catechism, of which you once said : All that is told 
in this book applies to me. For you try to care for your God 
just as though He w r ere not Almighty and could not make 
ten Dr. Martins should the old one be drowned in the Saalc, 
etc. Leave me in peace with your cares, I have a better 
guardian than even you and all the angels." 3 

1 The fragmentary work, ed. E. Thiele in the " Neudrucken 
deutscher Literaturwerke," No. 76, according to the Cod. Ottobon. 
3029 in the Vat. Library. For an older ed. see " Luthers Werke," ed. 
Walch, 14, p. 1365 f. Cp. Luther s praise of JEsop and hints on i?t 
use, in Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 379. 

2 End of July, 1545, " Briefe," 5, p. 753. See above, vol iii., 
pp. 280 f., 307. 3 Feb. 7, 1546, *&., p. 787 

TI 2 B. 


3. Luther s Death at Eisleben (1546) 

In March, 1545, there was sent to Luther by Philip of 
Hesse an Italian broadside purporting to have been printed 
in Rome, and containing a fearsome account of Luther s 
supposed death. In it " the ambassador of the King of 
France " announces that Luther had wished his body set up 
on the altar for adoration ; also that before he died he had 
received the Body of Christ, but that the Host had hovered 
untouched over the grave after the funeral ; a diabolical din 
had been heard coming from the grave, but, on opening it, it 
was found to be empty though it emitted a murderous 
stench of brimstone. Luther at once published the narrative 
with an half-ironical, half-indignant commentary. He 
sought to persuade the people that the Pope had actually 
wished for his death and damnation. In a poem which he 
prefixed to the pamphlet he tells the Pope in his usual 
style that : his life was indeed the Pope s plague, but that 
his death would be the Pope s death too ; the Pope might 
choose which he liked best, the plague or death. About the 
real origin of this alleged Italian production nothing is 
known. 1 

In his bodily sufferings and anxiety of mind concerning 
the present and the future of his life s work Luther frequently 
spoke of his desire for a speedy release by death. His words 
on this subject throw a strong light on his frame of mind. 

As things are " ever growing worse," he says, " let our Lord 
God take away His own. He will remove the pious and then 
make an end of Germany." " I am very weary of life," he 
declared, " may Our Lord come right speedily and take me away, 
and, above all, may He come with His Judgment Day ! I will 
reach out my neck to Him that He may strike me down with His 
thunderbolt where I am. Amen." 2 As early as June 11, 1539 ( ?), 
when he was wished another forty years of life, he said that, 
even were he offered a Paradise on earth for forty years, " I would 
not accept it. I would rather hire an executioner to chop off my 
head. So wicked is the world now ! And the people are becoming 
real devils, so that one could wish him nothing better than a good 
death and then away ! " 3 

1 Erl. ed., 32, p. 426. The Latin verses begin : " Dura lues pestis, 
sed mors est durior ilia." One may well ask whether the broadside, 
which bears no date, was not perhaps written in Germany by friends of 
Luther s to afford a pretext for inveighing anew against the Catholics. 

* Mathesius, " Aufzeichn.," p. 323 f.. 12, 113. 

* Erl. ed., 61, p. 435, 


Do you know, he said on one occasion, who it is that holds back 
God s arm ? "I am the block that stops God s way. When I dio 
He will strike. No doubt we are despised ; but let them gather 
up the leavings when they are most despised ; that is my 
advice." 1 

That, " even in our own lifetime, the world should thus repay 
us," seemed to him intolerable. 2 " I hold that, for a thousand 
years, the world has never been so unfriendly to anyone as to me. 
I am also unfriendly to it, and know of nothing in life that I take 
pleasure in." 3 

Of the sudden death that confronted him he had, however, no 
idea. On the contrary, in 1543, when he was suffering from 
severe trouble in the head, he said to Catherine Bora, that he 
would summon his son Hans from Torgau to Wittenberg to be 
present at his death, which now seemed near at hand ; but, he 
added : "I shall not die so suddenly, I shall first take to my bed 
and be ill ; but I shall not lie there long. I have had enough of 
the world and it has had enough of me. ... I give thanks to 
Thee My God that Thou hast numbered me in Thy little flock 
which endures persecution for the sake of Thy Word." 4 

Incidentally he declared : " If I die in my bed it will be to defy 
the Papists and put them to shame." Why ? Because they will 
not have been able to do me the harm " they wished, and, in fact, 
were in duty bound to have done me." 5 

The thought of death often made his hatred of the Catholics to 
flame up more luridly. " Only after my death will they feel what 
Luther really was " ; should he fall a prey to his adversaries 
before his time, he would carry with him to the grave " a long 
train of bishops, priestlings and monks, for my life shall be their 
hangman, my death their devil." He announces angrily, " They 
shall not be able to resist me," and that, " in God s name, he will 
tread the lion and the dragon under foot," but of all this, accord 
ing to him, they were to have only a taste during his lifetime ; 
only after his death would matters be carried out in earnest. 8 

Brooding over his own death he says of the death of the 
believing Christian, viz. of the man who puts his trust in the 
Evangel : " If a man seriously meditates in his heart on God s 
Word, believes it and falls asleep and dies in it, he will pass away 
before he realises that death has come, and is assuredly saved by 
the Word in which he has thus believed and died." 7 These words 
he wrote on Feb. 7, 1546, to an Eisleben gentleman in a copy of 
his Home-Postils. He prefaced them with a passage from 
Scripture in which he himself doubtless had often sought comfort : 
" He that keepeth my Word shall not taste of death for ever " 
(John viii. 51). In one of his last lengthy notes he also seeks to 
make his own this believing confidence : " Christ commands us 

Schlaginhaufen, " Aufzeichn.," p. 115. 

To Jonas, Feb. 25, 1542, " Briefe," 5, p. 439. 

Mathesius, *&., p. 113. 4 /&., p. 384. 6 Ib., p 113. 

Weim. ed., 30, 3, p. 387 ; Erl. ed., 25 2 , p. 87. 

Erl. ed., 52, p. 36. 


to believe in Him. Although we are not able to believe as firmly 
as we should yet God has patience with us." " I hide myself 
under the shelter of the Son of God ; Him I hold and honour as 
my Lord to Whom I must fly when the devil, sin or any other ill 
assails me. For He is my shield, extending beyond the heavens 
and the earth and the foster-hen under whose wings I creep from 
the wrath of God." Thus he was so steeped in the delusion of 
faith alone that he could thus wish to die in sole reliance on the 
"Word of God," thanks to which he is to escape "the devil, 
death, hell and sin." 1 We may remember that, in one of his 
earliest controversial sermons, where a glimpse of his new doctrine 
is already to be detected, he had used the simile of the foster-hen. 
Now, in his old age, he returns to it, the richer by the experience 
of a long lifetime, albeit he now sees that it is difficult, nay im 
possible, " to believe as firmly as we should." 

In Jan., 1546, Luther set out for the third time for Mans- 
feld, in order to settle the business of Count Albert of 
Mansfeld ; only as a corpse was he to return home. 

The Elector did not look with approval on Luther s 
arduous labours as peacemaker, while Chancellor Bruck 
even went so far as to characterise the Counts interminable 
lawsuits about the mines and the rest as a " pig-market." 
Luther, nevertheless, set out again on Jan. 23, regardless of 
his already impaired health, betaking himself this time to 
Eisleben. He was accompanied by his three sons, their 
tutor and his famulus Aurifaber, the editor of the German 
Table-Talk. At Halle they were detained three days in the 
house of Jonas on account of the floating ice and the flooded 
state of the Saale. " We did not wish to take to the water 
and tempt God," so he wrote to Catherine on Jan. 25, " for 
the devil bears us a grudge and also dwells in the water ; 
and, moreover, 4 discretion is the best part of valour ; nor 
is there any need for us to give the Pope and his myrmidons 
such cause for delight." 2 

On the 26th Luther preached a sermon in which, with all 
the strength at his command, he poured forth his anger 
against Popery, " which had cheated and befooled the whole 
world." " The Pope, the Cardinals and the lousy, scurvy, 
mangy monks have hoaxed and deluded us." He proceeded 
to storm against the unfortunate monks who had dared to 
remain in a town now almost entirely won over to the 

1 Ib., 61, p. 432 ; 64, p. 289. Cp. ib., 3 2 , p. 418 f. ; II 2 , p. 148 ; 
Weim. ed., 16, p. 418 f.-Erl. ed., 36, p. 27. " Briefe," 6, p. 41 1. 

j, a " iiriefe," 5, p. 780. For the devil s preference for water see a,bove, 
vol. v., p. 285, 


innovations : "I am above measure astonished that you 
gentlemen of Halle can still tolerate amongst you these 
knaves, the crawling, lousy monks. . . . These wanton, 
verminous miscreants take pleasure only in folly. . . . You 
gentlemen ought to drive the imbecile, sorry creatures out of 
the town. . . . What we teach and preach we do not teach 
as our own words, discovered or invented by us, like the 
visions of the monks which they preach ; their lies are like 
bulging hop-pockets or sacks of wool." 1 

On the 28th, after having been joined by Jonas, Luther 
and his companions crossed the swollen Saale. On this 
occasion he said to Jonas : " Dear Dr. Jonas, wouldn t it be 
a fine thing were I, Dr. Martin, my three sons and you to be 
all drowned ! " Not far from Eisleben they were overtaken 
by a cold wind which brought the traveller in the carriage 
to such a state of weakness and breathlessness that he nearly 
fainted. " The devil always plays me this trick," so he 
consoled himself, " when I have something great on hand." 2 

At Eisleben he took up his abode with the town-clerk, and 
soon got well enough to take part in the negotiations ; he 
visited the several families of the Counts and amused himself 
in his hours of leisure by looking at the young nobles and their 
ladies tobogganing. 3 To Catherine he wrote jestingly on Feb. 
1, that his fit near Eisleben was the work of the Jews, 
numbers of whom lived there (at Rissdorf ) ; they had raised 
up a bitter wind against him, which " penetrated the back 
of the carriage and passed right through my cap into my 
head, and tried to turn my brain to ice. This may have 
brought on the fainting ; now, however, thank God, I am 
quite well, were it not for the pretty women, etc." (cp. above, 
vol. iii., p. 281). He extols the Naumburg beer, which suits 
him well,