GRACE and peace from God the Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ. I have already purloined our Philip’s Annotations on three Epistles of Paul. And though he was not at liberty to rage against that thief Luther for it, he nevertheless thought he had been most satisfactorily avenged against me in that the little volume had come out so full of errors due to the negligence of the printers that I was nearly ashamed and regretted having invested my stolen goods so poorly. Meanwhile, he has been making fun of me, hoping that henceforth I would abstain from such theft, having been taught a lesson by my predicament. But I, not at all troubled by this derision, have grown even more audacious, and now I take his Annotations on John the Evangelist not by stealth but by force, while the author resists in vain. But I do not wish to adorn them with words (they will commend themselves to the reader), lest I should have to endure his scornful frown again.
For it is not out of concern for modesty that he despises himself and his works, but because with Christian sentiment he believes that all our efforts are nothing, rather that everything is due to Christ alone, [and believes this] so obstinately that it seems plain to me that he has erred at least in this: that he supposes that Christ is farther away from his heart than He truly is. Nor does he believe me any longer when I attempt to persuade him otherwise; he has progressed so far that he has surpassed me: “Therefore the last shall be first, and the first last” [Matt. 20:16].
In short, he asserts that he does not want to be known as the author of these Annotations. Certainly Philip is a complete nobody so far as helping the church is concerned. I, too, would prefer that there were no commentaries anywhere, but only the pure Scriptures reigning everywhere, interpreted with a living voice.
But I do not see how the church can do without commentaries that at least point to the Scriptures themselves; Philip’s [commentaries] are of such a sort. And who does not see that the Epistle to the Hebrews is practically a commentary? So also Paul’s letters to the Romans and Galatians. For who would have interpreted the Sacred Scriptures this way unless Paul had pointed out that this was how they were to be interpreted? But I call such “pointing out” a commentary. This is all that is required of Philip. He, however, imagines that something else is required of him.
Therefore, I send this, the fruit of my thievery, to you, most excellent Gerbel, so that you may strive mightily to make it well-known and distributed among your people, however unwilling the author may be. For I hope that Johannes Setzer will see that it is printed more correctly and accurately than my previous theft was printed.
Although that inexorable Achilles might perhaps have added much light and grace, if he had chosen to ply his rhetoric himself in this little book, yet [as it] now [stands], even if it should be lacking somewhat in either arrangement or eloquence, still wisdom itself and truth supply sufficient grace and light. For this book itself will boast that Philip is truthful and wise, unless Christ whom he breathes and teaches is not the Truth and Wisdom. For he himself may choose to be, and be called, a fool along with Christ. And would that we, too, were such fools along with them, so that we might boast: “The foolishness of God is wiser than men” [1 Cor. 1:25].
I rejoice exceedingly that Johann Oecolampadius of Basel is offering a public exposition of Isaiah, though I hear it displeases many. But this is the lot of Christian doctrine. Christ will give us, through this man also, some light (that is, some commentary) on the Prophets, something that our times particularly lack.
Farewell, my Gerbel, in Christ; and pray for the sinner and fool Luther. Greet all our fellows in the Lord. Wittenberg. 23.