Category Archives: Luther

Luther Wasn’t Good At Dates

On 16 April 1528 Luther wrote his friend

On Laetare Oecolampadius married a widow, a wealthy one, they say. Good for him!

Laetare was on 22 March that year, but Oecolampadius was actually married March 12 or 15.  Come on, Martin, get it right.  You aren’t Kellyanne Conway!

Fun Facts From Church History: A Little Known Influence on Luther

You may not be familiar with Johann Hilten, but he was a strange little Monk with some fairly bizarre apocalyptic inclinations who was fairly influential on Luther in terms of the latter’s self understanding.

In the Franciscan Convent at Eisenach, in Thuringia, was a monk named John Hilten. He was a careful student of the Prophet Daniel, and the Apocalypse of St. John; he even wrote a Commentary on these Books, and censured the most crying abuses of monastic life. The enraged monks threw him into prison. His advanced age, and the filthiness of his dungeon, bringing on a dangerous illness, he asked for the friar superintendant, who had no sooner arrived, than, without listening to the prisoner, he began to give vent to his rage, and to rebuke him harshly for his doctrine, which (adds the chronicle) was at variance with the monk’s kitchen.

The Franciscan, forgetting his illness, and fetching a deep sigh, exclaims, “I calmly submit to your injustice for the love of Christ; for I have done nothing to shake the monastic state, and have only censured its most notorious abuses. But,” continued he, (this is the account given by Melancthon in his Apology for the Confession of Augsburg,) “another will come in the year of the Lord one thousand five hundred and sixteen; he will destroy you, and you will not be able to resist him.”

John Hilten, who had announced the end of the world in the year 1651, was not so much mistaken in the year in which the future Reformer was to appear. He was born not long after at a short distance from Hilten’s dungeon, commenced his studies in the same town where the monk was prisoner, and publicly engaged in the Reformation only a year later than the Franciscan had mentioned.*

When Luther learned of Hilten, and discovered his anti-monastic vitriol, and most especially his ‘prophecy’ of a destroyer of the Monastic orders, it was hardly a stretch for Luther to see himself as the prophesied one. Which he did.

Funny, isn’t it, how people we barely know anything about somehow manage to be some of the greatest ‘influencers’ in Church History.
*J. H. Merle D’Aubigné, History of the Reformation in the Sixteenth Century (trans. Henry Beveridge and H. White; vol. 1; 1862), 70.

The Evil Angels According to Luther

The first evil angel is Tatian, with his Encratites, who forbade marriage and wanted to become righteous by their works, like the Jews. For the doctrine of works-righteousness had to be the first doctrine in opposition to the gospel; and it also remains the last, except that it is always getting new teachers and new names, such as the Pelagians, etc.

The second [evil angel] is Marcion, with his Cataphrygians, Manichaeans, Montanists, etc., who extol their own spirituality above all the Scriptures, and who move—like this burning mountain [8:8]—between heaven and earth, as, for example, Münzer and the fanatics in our day.

The third is Origen, who embittered and corrupted the Scriptures with philosophy and reason, as the universities have hitherto done among us.

The fourth is Novatus, with his Cathari, who denied penance and claimed to be purer than others. Of this same sort were, later, the Donatists. Our clergy, however, are all four [of these evil angels] at once. The scholars who know history will be able to figure this out, for it would take too long to relate and prove everything [here].*

Scholars of our own day will recognize that every heresy ever to assault the Church has been around since the beginning.  From the Montanists to the Pentebabbleists and from the Origenists to the Emergents and from the Novations to the Osteenites and everything in between.  When it comes to heresy, there really is nothing new under the sun and every new evil is just an old evil renewed.

*Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 35: Word and Sacrament I (ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann; vol. 35; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 402–404.

Luther’s Preface to Melanchthon’s Annotations on John

I share this simply because it’s glorious. Enjoy (and read all of Luther’s Prefaces in these exceptional volumes).

28166GRACE 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. [15]23.

A Great Quote from the Selderhuis Luther Lecture at Westminster

Is this one-

Here’s the full quote from which that excellent snippet is extracted:

He has accomplished what he was called to do. He has introduced among us [the knowledge of] languages, and has called us away from the sacrilegious studies. Perhaps he himself will die with Moses in the plains of Moab, for he does not advance to the better studies (those which pertain to piety). I greatly wish he would restrain himself from dealing with Holy Scripture and writing his Paraphrases, for he is not up to this task; he takes the time of [his] readers in vain, and he hinders them in studying Scripture. He has done enough in showing us the evil. He is (in my opinion) unable to show us the good and to lead us into the promised land. But why do I talk so much of Erasmus? Only so that you will not be influenced by his name and authority, but rather be happy when you feel that something displeases him in this matter of Scripture. For he is a man who is unable to have, or does not want to have, a right judgment in these matters, as almost the whole world is beginning to perceive of him.*

*Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 49: Letters II (ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann; vol. 49; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 44.   Text in Latin: WA, Br 3, 96–97.  Emphasis mine.

Today With Luther: The Publication of ‘On the Councils and the Church’

On March 14, 1539, Luther reported to Philip Melanchthon that he had finished the treatise, but was not quite happy with the way it had turned out. Three German editions appeared during the same year; the first two were printed by Hans Lufft in Wittenberg, the third by Crafft Müller in Strassburg. A Latin edition, produced by Justas Jonas and printed in 1557 in Basel, became well known during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.*

It’s a delightful book.  And still worth reading.

*Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 41: Church and Ministry III, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 41 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 8.

Gentle Luther, Meek and Mild

Caspar Schwenckfeld sent one of his silly books to Luther and asked his opinion of it.  When the messenger dropped it off Luther didn’t let him leave until he gave his this response to pass on to his master-

The stupid fool, [Caspar Schwenckfeld], who is possessed by the devil, has no understanding, and doesn’t know what he’s mumbling about. If he won’t stop, at least let him not bother me with his books, which the devil is spitting up and spewing out of him. Let him have this as my final judgment and answer.  

The Lord rebuke you, Satan! And the spirit who called you, the course which you take, and all the sacramentarians and Eutychians who side with you in your blasphemies—to hell with you!

As it is written, ‘I did not send the prophets, yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied’ [Jer. 23:21].” — Martin Luther

Luther would say the same thing to so many today.  So many.

Martin Luther: On Those Ignoramuses Troubled By The Differences in the Gospels

A Christian man should not be troubled at all that Matthew, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, etc., describe Christ differently, since we see that they agree in the main thing. And what an injustice it would be to demand that they all write everything about the same subject in the same way and with the same words!

How many have there ever been and are there today who write and teach on the one wretched subject of grammar? And yet none of them agrees with another except in this main point: that they are teaching how to write and speak in Latin or Greek. Why do we not accuse Virgil for not describing the Trojan War in the same form as Homer? Why should we not harass all the poets and rhetors who write so differently on one and the same theme, even if they are pursuing the same end?

Is it only the Christian religion that we shall reduce to a state in which each of its writers is forced to write everything in the same way, as the fable is told about the agreement of the Seventy Translators?

Hence those who are offended by the diversity and variety of the writers about the Christian religion are either utterly wicked or very ignorant, for there is no diversity or conflict among them concerning the main thing, but rather the most beautiful and pleasant agreement. – Martin Luther

Let those who have ears, hear.

I Let the Word Do Its Work

“All that I have done is to further, preach and teach God’s Word; otherwise I have done nothing. So it happened that while I slept or while I drank a glass of Wittenberg beer with my friend Philip [Melanchthon] and with Amsdorf, the papacy was weakened as it never was before by the action of any prince or emperor. I have done nothing; the Word has done and accomplished everything.… I let the Word do its work!” — Martin Luther

Defective Theologians Produce Speculative Theology

lutherLuther remarked

“The speculative learning of the theologians is altogether worthless. I have read Bonaventure on [the mystical union with Christ], and he almost drove me mad because I desired to experience the union of God with my soul (about which he babbles) through a union of intellect and will. Such theologians are nothing but fanatics. …   Likewise, the mystical theology of Dionysius is nothing but trumpery, and Plato prattles that everything is non-being and everything is being, and he leaves it at that. This is what mystical theology declares: Abandon your intellect and senses and rise up above being and non-being.

Preach it.

Luther: On Prayer

luther_glass“When we pray we have the advantage [of the promise] that what we ask will be granted, although not according to our wish. If it weren’t for the promise I wouldn’t pray. God does well, moreover, that he doesn’t give us everything as we wish, for otherwise we’d want to have everything on our own terms.

That our Lord God is the same in life and death I have often experienced. If our prayer is earnest it will be heard, even if not as and when we wish. This must be so or our faith is vain. Consequently it’s difficult to pray. I know well what a prayer requires of me. I haven’t committed adultery, but I’ve broken the first table against God’s Word and honor. On account of my great sins [against the first table] I can’t get to the others in the second table.” — Martin Luther

Fun Facts from Church History: Luther’s Dread

luther65Luther left the Wartburg on March 1, 1522, arriving at Wittenberg on March 6. One of the first things he did was to preach a series of eight sermons, during the week beginning March 9, in an effort to counteract the extreme reforms which had been forced through by Karlstadt and Gabriel Zwilling.  Luther was by no means opposed to reform measures, but he held that they should be brought about by persuasion, not compulsion.*

One of those sermons was on marriage, which Luther commences thusly:

How I dread preaching on the estate of marriage! I am reluctant to do it because I am afraid if I once get really involved in the subject it will make a lot of work for me and for others. The shameful confusion wrought by the accursed papal law has occasioned so much distress, and the lax authority of both the spiritual and the temporal swords has given rise to so many dreadful abuses and false situations, that I would much prefer neither to look into the matter nor to hear of it. But timidity is no help in an emergency; I must proceed. I must try to instruct poor bewildered consciences, and take up the matter boldly.

And then of course he does.

*Luther’s works, vol. 45 : The Christian in Society II p. 13.

Go Ahead, Luther, Cheer Me Up…

The children of God have all the afflictions. The ungodly children of Satan enjoy the highest state of well-being. Everything seems the opposite of what it should be. The godly are maltreated, the ungodly receive gifts. In this vein the flesh blasphemes the work of God. So today we see our word and God’s Word to be futile, everything seems exactly the opposite of what it should be, and then we see God’s work to be unjust.

So God and Satan weary us with masks and external spirits so that we are led to believe that what is of God is Satan, and what is Satan is of God, and then we say in our heart, “I wish I had never been born.” All of us must experience this mood.

All the godly have felt this mood together with Christ, who cried on the cross (Matt. 27:46), “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” or with Jeremiah, who said (Jer. 20:14), “Cursed be the day on which I was born!”*

Yeah that hit the spot…

* Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 17: Lectures on Isaiah: Chapters 40-66, pp. 127–128.

Fun Facts From Church History: Luther’s Lectures on Psalm Two and a Post-Mortem Slam on Zwingli

7headedlutherIn 1532 Luther lectured on Psalm two on the following dates: March 5, April 9, April 16, May 27, May 28, June 8, July 5. He took his time with the text (obviously) and in the course of those lectures snidely remarked

That the kings and rulers rage against us at the present time, that Zwingli, Carlstadt, and others cause disturbances in the church, that burghers and peasants condemn the Gospel, is therefore nothing new or unusual.


Münzer stirs up an uproar in Thuringia. Carlstadt and Zwingli stir up horrible disturbances in the church when they try to persuade others that in Communion the body and blood of Christ are not received orally, but only bread and wine. Others join them, and gradually this pernicious doctrine fills France, Italy, and other nations.


“These things have happened through no fault of mine, therefore let the authors of these evils torture themselves. Not I. I shall do and I shall indeed try everything I can to alleviate these evils somewhat, but if I am unable to do so, I shall not on that account consume myself in sorrow. If one Münzer, Carlstadt, or Zwingli is not enough for Satan, he may stir up many more. I know that the nature of this kingdom is such that Satan cannot bear it. He labors with hands and feet with all his might that he may disturb the churches and oppose the Word.”

And several other times as well. That Luther lumps Zwingli with the Radicals is no surprise. What is surprising is his willingness to speak so ill of the dead. Indeed, of the dead not long dead!

Luther: he was a real jerk. (He’s been dead long enough one can say so without any twinge of guilt).

March 5, 1545

That was the day Martin Luther’s Latin works were published in a collection, with a foreword by  Luther himself.  Writes he

For a long time I strenuously resisted those who wanted my books, or more correctly my confused lucubrations, published. I did not want the labors of the ancients to be buried by my new works and the reader kept from reading them. Then, too, by God’s grace a great many systematic books now exist, among which the Loci communes of Philip excel, with which a theologian and a bishop can be beautifully and abundantly prepared to be mighty in preaching the doctrine of piety, especially since the Holy Bible itself can now be had in nearly every language. But my books, as it happened, yes, as the lack of order in which the events transpired made it necessary, are accordingly crude and disordered chaos, which is now not easy to arrange even for me.

Persuaded by these reasons, I wished that all my books were buried in perpetual oblivion, so that there might be room for better ones. But the boldness and bothersome perseverance of others daily filled my ears with complaints that it would come to pass, that if I did not permit their publication in my lifetime, men wholly ignorant of the causes and the time of the events would nevertheless most certainly publish them, and so out of one confusion many would arise. Their boldness, I say, prevailed and so I permitted them to be published. At the same time the wish and command of our most illustrious Prince, Elector, etc., John Frederick was added. He commanded, yes, compelled the printers not only to print, but to speed up the publication.

He continues on towards the end of a lengthy description of how he came to understand the papacy as a tool of Satan,

I relate these things, good reader, so that, if you are a reader of my puny works, you may keep in mind, that, as I said above, I was all alone and one of those who, as Augustine says of himself, have become proficient by writing and teaching.

I was not one of those who from nothing suddenly become the topmost, though they are nothing, neither have labored, nor been tempted, nor become experienced, but have with one look at the Scriptures exhausted their entire spirit.

It almost sounds like he’s talking about certain journalists these days, doesn’t it?  In any event, he concludes

Farewell in the Lord, reader, and pray for the growth of the Word against Satan. Strong and evil, now also very furious and savage, he knows his time is short and the kingdom of his pope is in danger. But may God confirm in us what he has accomplished and perfect his work which he began in us, to his glory, Amen. March 5, in the year 1545.

Oh Martin…


Fun Facts From Church History: The Lutheran Bigamist and Luther’s Wink and Nod

luther_melancthon2From Luther’s table talk-

When news of the bigamy of Hesse spread abroad, the doctor [Martin Luther] said with a serene countenance, “He’s a remarkable man. He has his [propitious] star. I think he wishes to obtain it [consent for his bigamy] through the emperor and the pope in order to gratify his desire. It’s also possible that he may defect from us as a result of this business.”

The editor remarks

Landgrave Philip of Hesse, a prominent evangelical prince who had been unhappily married to the daughter of Duke George of Saxony (cf. No. 275, n. 118) and had been resorting to a succession of prostitutes, finally decided to end his immoral conduct by marrying Margaret von der Sale. The theologian Martin Bucer (cf. No. 184, n. 64) interceded in his behalf with Luther and Melanchthon, who reluctantly gave their approval to the proposed marriage on condition that the arrangements be kept secret. On March 4, 1540, the marriage took place. When it became widely known soon after, a scandal resulted.

That because Philip was still legally married when he married his second wife.  Luther wasn’t too bothered by it.  I suppose the support of the Prince was more valuable to Luther than propriety.

Luther on Lent

luther_zwingliThis declaration and judgment must be firmly grasped, for it is powerful and overthrows with forcefulness all teaching, custom, and mode of life that distinguishes between foods. It liberates all consciences from all laws concerning food and drink. So it is allowable to eat milk, butter, eggs, cheese, and meat any day, be it Sunday or Friday, Lent or Advent; and no one needs to pay butter money or buy letters for that purpose. For this word stands firm and does not deceive, “What goes into the mouth does not defile a man.” — Martin Luther