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Twenty-seven Articles respecting the Reformation of the Christian Estate.
Now though I am too lowly to submit articles that could serve for the reformation of these fearful evils, I will yet sing out my fool’s song, and will show, as well as my wit will allow, what might and should be done by the temporal authorities or by a General Council.
1. Princes, nobles and cities should promptly forbid their subjects to pay the annates and should even abolish them altogether. For the Pope has broken the compact, and turned the annates into robbery for the harm and shame of the German nation; he gives them to his friends; he sells them for large sums of money and founds benefices on them. Therefore he has forfeited his right to them, and deserves punishment. In this way the temporal power should protect the innocent and prevent wrongdoing, as we are taught by St. Paul (Rom. xiii.) and by St. Peter (1 Pet. ii.) and even by the canon law. (16. q. 7. de Filiis.) That is why we say to the Pope and his followers: tu ora! “thou shalt pray;” to the Emperor and his followers: tu protege! “thou shalt protect;” to the commons: tu labora! “thou shalt work;” not that each man should not pray, protect and work; for if a man fulfils his duty, that is prayer, protection and work; but every man must have his proper task.
2. Since by means of those Romish tricks commendams, coadjutors, reservations, expectations, Pope’s months, incorporations, unions, Palls, rules of chancellery, and other such knaveries, the Pope takes unlawful possession of all German foundations, to give and sell them to strangers at Rome, that profit Germany in no way; so that the incumbents are robbed of their rights, and the bishops are made mere cyphers and anointed idols; and thus besides natural justice and reason the Pope’s own canon law is violated; and things have come to such 45a pass, that prebends and benefits are sold at Rome to vulgar, ignorant asses and knaves, out of sheer greed, while pious learned men have no profit by their merit and skill, whereby the unfortunate German people must needs lack good, learned Prelates and suffer ruin—on account of these evils the Christian nobility should rise up against the Pope as a common enemy and destroyer of Christianity, for the sake of the salvation of the poor souls that such tyranny must ruin. They should ordain, order and decree that henceforth no benefice shall be drawn away to Rome, and that no benefice shall be claimed there in any fashion whatsoever; and after having once got these benefices out of the hands of Romish tyranny, they must be kept from them, and their lawful incumbents must be reinstated in them to administer them as best they may, within the German nation. And if a courtling came from Rome, he should receive the strict command to withdraw, or to leap into the Rhine, or whatever river be nearest, and to administer a cold bath to the Interdict, seal and letters and all. Thus those at Rome would learn, that we Germans are not to remain drunken fools for ever, but that we, too, are become Christians, and that as such, we will no longer suffer this shameful mockery of Christ’s holy name, that serves as a cloak for such knavery and destruction of souls, and that we shall respect God and the glory of God more than the power of men.
3. It should be decreed by an Imperial law, that no episcopal cloak, and no confirmation of any appointment shall for the future be obtained from Rome. The order of the most holy and renowned Nicene Council must again be restored, namely, that a bishop must be confirmed by the two nearest bishops, or by the archbishop. If the Pope cancels the decrees of these and all other councils, what is the good of councils at all? Who has given him the right thus to despise councils and to cancel them? If this is allowed, we had better abolish all bishops, archbishops and primates, and make simple rectors of all of them, so that they would have the Pope alone over them; as is indeed the case now; he deprives bishops, archbishops and primates of all the authority of their office, taking everything to himself, and leaving them only the name and the empty title; more than this: by his exemption he has withdrawn convents, abbots and prelates from the ordinary authority of 46the Bishops, so that there remains no order in Christendom. The necessary result of this must be, and has been, laxity in punishing, and such a liberty to do evil in all the world, that I very much fear one might call the Pope “the man of sin.” Who but the Pope is to blame for this absence of all order, of all punishment, of all government, of all discipline in Christendom? By his own arbitrary power he ties the hands of all his prelates, and takes from them their rods, while all their subjects have their hands unloosed, and obtain license by gift or purchase.
But, that he have no cause for complaint, as being deprived of his authority, it should be decreed, that in cases where the primates and archbishops are unable to settle the matter, or where there is a dispute among them, the matters shall then be submitted to the Pope, but not every little matter; as was done formerly, and was ordered by the most renowned Nicene Council. His Holiness must not be troubled with small matters, that can be settled without his help; so that he may have leisure to devote himself to his prayers and study, and to his care of all Christendom, as he professes to do. As indeed the Apostles did, saying (Acts vi. 2, 4): “It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables . . . But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.” But now we see at Rome nothing but contempt of the Gospel and of prayer, and the service of tables, that is, the service of the goods of this world; and the government of the Pope agrees with the government of the Apostles as well as Lucifer with Christ, hell with heaven, night with day; and yet he calls himself Christ’s Vicar, and the successor of the Apostles.
4. Let it be decreed that no temporal matter shall be submitted to Rome, but all shall be left to the jurisdiction of the temporal authorities. This is part of their own canon law, though they do not obey it. For this should be the Pope’s office, that he, the most learned in the Scriptures, and the most holy, not in name only, but in fact, should rule in matters concerning the faith and the holy life of Christians; he should make primates and bishops attend to this, and should work and take thought with them to this end: as St. Paul teaches (1 Cor. vi.), severely upbraiding those that occupy themselves with the things of this world. For all countries suffer unbearable 47damage by this practice of settling such matters at Rome, since it involves great expense; and besides this, the judges at Rome, not knowing the manners, laws and customs of other countries, frequently pervert the matter according to their own laws and their own opinions, thus causing injustice to all parties. Besides this, we should prohibit in all foundations the grievous extortion of the ecclesiastical judges; they should only be allowed to consider matters concerning faith and good morals; but matters concerning money, property, life and honour, should be left to the temporal judges. Therefore the temporal authorities should not permit excommunication or expulsion except in matters of faith and righteous living. It is only reasonable, that spiritual authorities should have power in spiritual matters; spiritual matters, however, are not money or matters relating to the body, but faith and good works.
Still we might allow matters respecting benefices or prebends to be treated before bishops, archbishops and primates. Therefore, when it is necessary to decide quarrels and strifes let the Primate of Germany hold a general consistory, with assessors and chancellors, who would have the control over the signaturas gratiae and justitiae,3131 At the time when the above was written the function of the signatura gratiæ was to superintend the conferring of grants, concessions, favours, etc., whilst the signatura justitiæ embraced the general administration of ecclesiastical matters. and to whom matters arising in Germany might be submitted by appeal. The officers of such court should be paid out of the annates, or in some other way, and should not have to draw their salaries as at Rome from chance presents and offerings; whereby they grow accustomed to sell justice and injustice, as they must needs do at Rome, where the Pope gives them no salary, but allows them to fatten themselves on presents; for at Rome no one heeds what is right or what is wrong, but only what is money and what is not money. But this matter of salaries I must leave to men of higher understanding and of more experience in these things than I have. I am content with making these suggestions and giving some materials for consideration to those who may be able and willing to help the German nation to become a free people of Christians, after this wretched, heathen, unchristian misrule of the Pope.48
5. Henceforth no reservations shall be valid, and no benefices shall be appropriated by Rome, whether the incumbent die, or there be a dispute, or the incumbent be a servant of the Pope, or of a cardinal; and all courtiers shall be strictly prohibited and prevented from causing a dispute about any benefice, so as to cite the pious priests, to trouble them and to drive them into a lawsuit. And if in consequence of this there comes an interdict from Rome, let it be despised, just as if a thief were to excommunicate any man because he would not allow him to steal in peace. Nay, they should be punished most severely, for making such a blasphemous use of Excommunication and of the name of God, to support their robberies, and for wishing by their false threats to drive us to suffer and approve this blasphemy of God’s name, and this abuse of Christian authority; and thus to become sharers before God in their wrongdoing, whereas it is our duty before God to punish it, as St. Paul (Rom. i.) upbraids the Romans for not only doing wrong, but allowing wrong to be done. But above all that lying mental reservation (pectoralis reservatio) is unbearable, by which Christendom is so openly mocked and insulted, in that its head notoriously deals with lies, and impudently cheats and fools every man for the sake of accursed wealth.
6. The cases reserved3232 “Reserved cases” refer to those great sins for which the Pope or the bishops only could give absolution. (casus reservati) should be abolished, by which not only are the people cheated out of much money, but besides many poor consciences are confused and led into error by the ruthless tyrants to the intolerable harm of their faith in God, especially those foolish and childish cases that are made important by the Bull ‘In Coena Domini,’3333 The celebrated Papal Bull known under the name of In Cænar Domini, containing anathemas and excommunications against all those who dissented in any way from the Roman Catholic creed, used, until the year 1770, to be read publicly at Rome on Maundy Thursday. and which do not deserve the name of daily sins; not to mention those great cases for which the Pope gives no absolution: such as preventing a pilgrim from going to Rome, furnishing the Turks with arms or forging the Pope’s letters. They only fool us with these gross, mad and clumsy matters: Sodom and Gomorrah, and all sins that are committed 49and that can be committed against God’s commandments are, not reserved cases; but what God never commanded and they themselves have invented—these must be made reserved cases; solely in order that none may be prevented from bringing money to Rome, that they may live in their lust without fear of the Turk, and may keep the world in their bondage by their useless Bulls and Briefs.
Now all priests ought to know, or rather it should be a public ordinance, that no secret sin constitutes a reserved case, if there be no public accusation; and that every priest has power to absolve from all sin, whatever its name, if it be secret, and that no abbot, bishop or Pope has power to reserve any such case; and lastly, that if they do this, it is null and void, and they should moreover be punished as interfering without authority in God’s judgment and confusing and troubling without cause our poor witless consciences. But in respect to any great open sin, directly contrary to God’s commandments, there is some reason for a reserved case; but there should not be too many, nor should they be reserved arbitrarily without due cause. For God has not ordained tyrants, but shepherds in His Church, as St. Peter says. (1 Pet. v. 2.)
7. The Roman See must abolish the Papal offices, and diminish that crowd of crawling vermin at Rome, so that the Pope’s servants may be supported out of the Pope’s own pocket, and that his court may cease to surpass all royal courts in its pomp and extravagance; seeing that all this pomp has not only been of no service to the Christian faith, but has also kept them from study and prayer, so that they themselves know hardly anything concerning matters of faith; as they proved clumsily enough at the last Roman Council,3434 The council alluded to above was held at Rome from 1512 to 1517. where among many childishly trifling matters, they decided “that the soul is immortal,” and that a priest is bound to pray once every month on pain of losing his benefice.3535 Luther’s objection is not, of course, to the recognition of the immortality of the soul; what he objects to is (1) that it was thought necessary for a council to decree that the soul is immortal, and (2) that this question was put on a level with trivial matters of discipline. How are men to rule Christendom and to decide matters of faith, who, callous and blinded by their greed, wealth, and worldly pomp, have only just 50decided that the soul is immortal? It is no slight shame to all Christendom that they should deal thus scandalously with the faith at Rome. If they had less wealth and lived in less pomp, they might be better able to study and pray, that they might become able and worthy to treat matters of belief, as they were once, when they were content to be bishops and not kings of kings.
8. The terrible oaths must be abolished which bishops are forced, without any right, to swear to the Pope, by which they are bound like servants, and which are arbitrarily and foolishly decreed in the absurd and shallow chapter, Significasti.3636 The above is the title of a chapter in the Corpus juris canonici. Is it not enough that they oppress us in goods, body, and soul by all their mad laws, by which they have weakened faith and destroyed Christianity; but must they now take possession of the very persons of Bishops, with their offices and functions, and also claim the investiture3737 The right of investiture was the subject of the dispute between Gregory VII. and Henry IV., which led to the Emperor’s submission at Canossa. which used formerly to be the right of the German Emperors, and is still the right of the King in France and other kingdoms? This matter caused many wars and disputes with the Emperors until the Popes impudently took the power by force; since which time they have retained it; just as if it were only right for the Germans, above all Christians on earth, to be the fools of the Pope and the Holy See, and to do and suffer what no one beside would suffer or do. Seeing then that this is mere arbitrary power, robbery, and a hindrance to the exercise of the bishop’s ordinary power, and to the injury of poor souls; therefore it is the duty of the Emperor and his nobles to prevent and punish this tyranny.
9. The Pope should have no power over the Emperor, except to anoint and crown him at the altar, as a bishop crowns a king; nor should that devilish pomp be allowed, that the Emperor should kiss the Pope’s feet, or sit at his feet, or, as it is said, hold his stirrup, or the reins of his mule, when he mounts to ride; much less should he pay homage to the Pope, or swear allegiance, as is impudently demanded by the Popes, as if they had a right to it. The chapter Solite,3838 The chapter Solite is also contained in the Corpus juris canonici. in which 51the papal authority is exalted above the Imperial, is not worth a farthing, and so of all those that depend on it or fear it; for it does nothing but pervert God’s holy words from their true meaning, according to their own imaginations, as I have proved in a Latin treatise.
All these excessive, over-presumptuous and most wicked claims of the Pope are the invention of the Devil, with the object of bringing in Antichrist in due course, and to raise the Pope above God; as indeed many have done and are now doing. It is not meet that the Pope should exalt himself above temporal authority, except in spiritual matters, such as preaching and absolution; in other matters he should be subject to it, according to the teaching of St. Paul (Rom. xiii.), and St. Peter (1 Pet. iii.), as I have said above. He is not the Vicar of Christ in heaven, but only of Christ upon earth. For Christ in heaven, in the form of a ruler, requires no vicar, but there sits, sees, does, knows, and commands all things. But He requires him “in the form of a servant” to represent Him as He walked upon earth, working, preaching, suffering and dying. But they reverse this; they take from Christ His power as a heavenly ruler, and give it to the Pope, and allow “the form of a servant” to be entirely forgotten. (Phil. ii. 7.) He should properly be called the counter-Christ, whom the Scriptures call Antichrist; for his whole existence, work, and proceedings are directed against Christ, to ruin and destroy the existence and will of Christ.
It is also absurd and puerile for the Pope to boast for such blind, foolish reasons, in his decretal Pastoralis, that he is the rightful heir to the Empire, if the throne be vacant. Who gave it to him? Did Christ do so, when He said: “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, but ye shall not do so”? (Luke xxii. 25, 26.) Did St. Peter bequeath it to him? It disgusts me that we have to read and teach such impudent, clumsy, foolish lies in the canon law, and moreover to take them for Christian doctrine, while in reality they are mere devilish lies. Of this kind also is the unheard-of lie touching the “donation of Constantine.”3939 In order to legalise the secular power of the Pope, the fiction was invented during the latter part of the eighth century, that Constantine the Great had made over to the Popes the dominion over Rome and over the whole of Italy. It must have been a 52plague sent by God that induced so many wise people to accept such lies, though they are so gross and clumsy, that one would think a drunken boor could lie more skilfully. How could preaching, prayer, study and the care of the poor consist with the government of the Empire? These are the true offices of the Pope, which Christ imposed with such insistence that He forbade them to take either coat or scrip (Matt. x. 10), for he that has to govern a single house can hardly perform these duties. Yet the Pope wishes to rule an Empire and to remain a Pope. This is the invention of the knaves that would fain become lords of the world in the Pope’s name, and set up again the old Roman empire, as it was formerly, by means of the Pope and name of Christ, in its former condition.
10. The Pope must withdraw his hand from the dish, and on no pretence assume royal authority over Naples and Sicily. He has no more right to it than I, and yet claims to be the lord of it. It has been taken by force and robbery like almost all his other possessions. Therefore the Emperor should grant him no such fief, nor any longer allow him those he has, but direct him instead to his Bibles and Prayer-books, so that he may leave the government of countries and peoples to the temporal power, especially of those that no one has given him. Let him rather preach and pray! The same should be done with Bologna, Imola, Vicenza, Ravenna, and whatever the Pope has taken by force and holds without right in the Ancontine territory, in the Romagna and other parts of Italy, interfering in their affairs against all the commandments of Christ and St. Paul. For St. Paul says (2 Tim. ii. 4): “that he that would be one of the soldiers of Heaven must not entangle himself in the affairs of this life.” Now the Pope should be the head and the leader of the soldiers of Heaven, and yet he engages more in worldly matters than any king or emperor. He should be relieved of his worldly cares and allowed to attend to his duties as a soldier of Heaven. Christ also, whose vicar he claims to be, would have nothing to do with the things of this world, and even asked one that desired of him a judgment concerning his brother: “Who made me a judge over you?” (St. Luke xii. 14.) But the Pope interferes in these matters unasked, and concerns himself with all matters, as though he 53were a god, until he himself has forgotten what this Christ is, whose vicar he professes to be.
11. The custom of kissing the Pope’s feet must cease. It is an un-Christian, or rather an anti-Christian example, that a poor sinful man should suffer his foot to be kissed by one who is a hundred times better than he. If it is done in honour of his power, why does he not do it to others in honour of their holiness? Compare them together: Christ and the Pope. Christ washed His disciples’ feet and dried them, and the disciples never washed His. The Pope, pretending to be higher than Christ, inverts this, and considers it a great favour to let us kiss his feet: whereas if any one wished to do so, he ought to do his utmost to prevent them, as St. Paul and Barnabas would not suffer themselves to be worshipped as Gods by the men at Lystra, saying: “We also are men of like passions with you.” (Acts xiv. 14 seq.) But our flatterers have brought things to such a pitch, that they have set up an idol for us, until no one regards God with such fear, or honours Him with such reverence as they do the Pope. This they can suffer, but not that the Pope’s glory should be diminished a single hair’s-breadth. Now if they were Christians and preferred God’s honour to their own, the Pope would never be willing to have God’s honour despised and his own exalted, nor would he allow any to honour him, until he found that God’s honour was again exalted above his own.
It is of a piece with this revolting pride, that the Pope is not satisfied with riding on horseback or in a carriage, but though he be hale and strong, is carried by men like an idol in unheard-of pomp. I ask you, how does this Lucifer-like pride agree with the example of Christ, who went on foot, as did also all His Apostles? Where has there been a king who lived in such worldly pomp as he does, who professes to be the head of all whose duty it is to despise and flee from all worldly pomp—I mean, of all Christians? Not that this need concern us for his own sake, but that we have good reason to fear God’s wrath, if we flatter such pride and do not show our discontent. It is enough that the Pope should be so mad and foolish; but it is too much that we should sanction and approve it.
For what Christian heart can be pleased at seeing the Pope, 54when he communicates, sit still like a gracious lord and have the sacrament handed to him on a golden reed, by a cardinal bending on his knees before him? Just as if the holy sacrament were not worthy that a Pope, a poor miserable sinner, should stand to do honour to his God, although all other Christians, who are much more holy than the Most Holy Father, receive it with all reverence? Could we be surprised if God visited us all with a plague, for that we suffer such dishonour to be done to God by our prelates, and approve it, becoming partners of the Pope’s damnable pride by our silence or flattery? It is the same when he carries the sacrament in procession. He must be carried, but the sacrament stands before him like a cup of wine on a table. In short, at Rome Christ is nothing, the Pope is everything; yet they urge us and threaten us, to make us suffer and approve and honour this Antichristian scandal, contrary to God and all Christian doctrine. Now, may God so help a free Council, that it may teach the Pope that he too is a man, not above God as he makes himself out to be.
12. Pilgrimages to Rome must be abolished, or at least no one must be allowed to go from his own wish or his own piety, unless his priest, his town magistrate, or his lord has found that there is sufficient reason for his pilgrimage. This I say, not because pilgrimages are bad in themselves, but because at the present time they lead to mischief; for at Rome a pilgrim sees no good examples, but only offence. They themselves have made a proverb: “The nearer to Rome, the farther from Christ,” and accordingly men bring home contempt of God and of God’s commandments. It is said: “The first time one goes to Rome, he goes to seek a rogue; the second time he finds him; the third time he brings him home with him.” But now they have become so skilful, that they can do their three journeys in one, and they have in fact brought home from Rome this saying:—It were better never to have seen or heard of Rome.
And even if this were not so, there is something of more importance to be considered; namely, that simple men are thus led into a false delusion and a wrong understanding of God’s commandments. For they think that these pilgrimages are precious and good works; but this is not true. It is but 55a little good work; often a bad, misleading work, for God has not commanded it. But He has commanded that each man should care for his wife and children and whatever concerns the married state; and should, besides, serve and help his neighbour. Now it often happens that one goes on a pilgrimage to Rome, spends fifty or one hundred guilders, more or less, which no one has commanded him, while his wife and children, or those dearest to him, are left at home in want and misery; and yet he thinks, poor foolish man, to atone for this disobedience and contempt of God’s commandments by his self-willed pilgrimage, while he is in truth misled by idle curiosity, or the wiles of the Devil. This the Popes have encouraged with their false and foolish inventions of Golden Years,4040 The Jubilees, during which plenary indulgences were granted to those who visited the churches of St. Peter and St Paul at Rome, were originally celebrated every hundred years and subsequently every twenty-five years. Those who were unable to go to Rome in person could obtain the plenary indulgences by paying the expenses of the journey to Rome into the Papal treasury. by which they have incited the people, have torn them away from God’s commandments and turned them to their own delusive proceedings, and set up the very thing that they ought to have forbidden. But it brought them money and strengthened their false authority, and therefore it was allowed to continue, though against God’s will and the salvation of souls.
That this false, misleading belief on the part of simple Christians may be destroyed, and a true opinion of good works may again be introduced, all pilgrimages should be done away with. For there is no good in them; no commandment; but countless causes of sin and of contempt of God’s commandments. These pilgrimages are the reason for there being so many beggars, that commit numberless villainies, taught by them and accustomed to beg without need. Hence arises a vagabond life; besides other miseries which I cannot dwell on now. If any one wishes to go on a pilgrimage or to make a vow for a pilgrimage, he should first inform his priest or the temporal authorities of the reason, and if it should turn out that he wished to do it for the sake of good works, let this vow and work be just trampled upon by the priest or the temporal authority as an infernal delusion, and let them 56tell him to spend his money, and the labour a pilgrimage would cost, on God’s commandments, and on a thousand-fold better work, namely, on his family and his poor neighbours. But if he does it out of curiosity, to see cities and countries, he may be allowed to do so. If he have vowed it in sickness, let such vows be prohibited, and let God’s commandments be insisted upon in contrast to them; so that a man may be content with what he vowed in baptism, namely, to keep God’s commandments. Yet, for this once he may be suffered, for a quiet conscience sake, to keep his silly vow. No one is content to walk on the broad high road of God’s commandments; every one makes for himself new roads and new vows, as if he had kept all God’s commandments.
13. Now we come to the great crowd that promises much and performs little. Be not angry, my good sirs, I mean well. I have to tell you this bitter and sweet truth: Let no more mendicant monasteries be built! God help us! there are too many as it is. Would to God they were all abolished, or at least made over to two or three orders. It has never done good, it will never do good, to go wandering about over the country. Therefore my advice is that ten, or as many as required, may be put together and made into one, which one, sufficiently provided for is not to beg. Oh! it is of much more importance to consider what is necessary for the salvation of the common people, than what St. Francis, or St. Dominic, or St. Augustine,4141 The above-mentioned saints were the patrons of the well-known mendicant orders, Franciscans, Dominicans and Augustines. or any other man, laid down; especially, since things have not turned out as they expected. They should also be relieved from preaching and confession, unless specially required to do so by bishops, priests, the congregation or other authority. For their preaching and confession has led to nought but mere hatred and envy between priests and monks, to the great offence and hindrance of the people, so that it well deserves to be put a stop to, since its place may be very well supplied. It does not look at all improbable that the Holy Roman See had its own reasons for encouraging all this crowd of monks: the Pope perhaps feared that priests and bishops, growing weary of his tyranny, 57might become too strong for him, and begin a reformation unendurable to his Holiness.
Besides this, one should also do away with the sections and the divisions in the same order which, caused for little reason and kept up for less, oppose each other with unspeakable hatred and malice. The result being, that the Christian faith, which is very well able to stand without their divisions, is lost on both sides, and that a true Christian life is sought and judged only by outward rules, works and manners, from which arise only hypocrisy and the destruction of souls; as every one can see for himself. Moreover the Pope should be forbidden to institute or to confirm the institution of such new orders, nay, he should be commanded to abolish several and to lessen their number. For the faith of Christ, which alone is the important matter and can stand without any particular Order, incurs no little danger, lest men should be led away by these diverse works and manners, rather to live for such works and manners than to care for faith. And unless there are wise prelates in the monasteries who preach and urge faith rather than the rule of the order, it is inevitable that the order should be injurious and misleading to simple souls, who have regard to works alone.
Now in our own time all the prelates are dead that had faith and founded orders. Just as it was in old days with the children of Israel; when their fathers were dead, that had seen God’s works and miracles, their children, out of ignorance of God’s work and of faith, soon began to set up idolatry and their own human works. In the same way, alas! these orders, not understanding God’s works and faith, grievously labour and torment themselves by their own rules and laws, and yet never arrive at a true understanding of a spiritual and good life; as was foretold by the Apostle, saying of them, “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof. . . . Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge” of what a true spiritual life is. (2 Tim. iii. 2-7.) Better to have no convents, where there is no truly spiritual prelate, of understanding in Christian faith, to govern them; for such a prelate cannot but rule with injury and harm, and the greater the apparent holiness of his life in external works, the greater the harm.58
It would be, I think, necessary, especially in these perilous times, that foundations and convents should again be organised as they were in the time of the Apostles and a long time after: namely, when they were all free, for every man to remain there as long as he wished. For what were they but Christian schools, in which the Scriptures and Christian life were taught, and where folk were trained to govern and to preach; as we read that St. Agnes went to school, and as we see, even now, in some nunneries, as at Quedlinburg and other places? Truly all foundations and convents ought to be free in this way, that they may serve God of a free will and not as slaves. But now they have been bound round with vows and turned into eternal prisons, so that these vows are regarded even more than the vows of baptism. But what fruit has come of this we daily see, hear, read and learn more and more.
I dare say that this my counsel will be thought very foolish, but I care not for this. I advise what I think best; reject it, who will. I know how these vows are kept, especially that of chastity, which is so general in all convents,4242 Luther alludes here, of course, to the vow of celibacy, which was curiously styled the vow of chastity; thus indirectly condemning marriage in general. and yet was not ordered by Christ, and it is given to comparatively few to be able to keep it, as He says and St. Paul also: (Col. ii. 20.) I wish all to be helped, and that Christian souls should not be held in bondage, through customs and laws invented by men.
14. We see also how the priesthood is fallen, and how many a poor priest is encumbered with a woman and children, and burdened in his conscience, and no one does anything to help him, though he might very well be helped. Popes and bishops may let that be lost that is being lost, and that be destroyed which is being destroyed; I will save my conscience and open my mouth freely, let it vex Popes and bishops or whoever it may be; therefore I say: According to the ordinances of Christ and His Apostles every town should have a minister, as St. Paul plainly says (Tit. i.), and this minister should not be forced to live without a lawful wife, but should be allowed to have one, as St. Paul writes (1 Tim. iii.), saying that “A bishop then must be 59blameless, the husband of one wife . . . having his children in subjection with all gravity.” For with St. Paul a bishop and a presbyter are the same thing, as St. Jerome also confirms. But as for the bishops that we now have, of these the Scriptures know nothing; they were instituted by the Christian congregations, so that one might rule over many ministers.
Therefore, we teach clearly according to the Apostle, that every town should elect a pious learned citizen from the congregation and charge him with the office of minister; the congregation should support him and he should be left at liberty to marry or not. He should have as assistants, several priests and deacons, married or not, as they please, who should help him to govern the people and the congregation with sermons and the ministration of the sacraments, as is still the case in the Greek Church. In these latter times, where there are so many persecutions and conflicts against heretics, there were many holy fathers, who voluntarily abstained from the marriage state, that they might study more, and might be ready at all times for death and conflict. Now the Roman See has interfered of its own perversity, and has made a general law by which priests are forbidden to marry. This must have been at the instigation of the Devil, as was foretold by St. Paul (1 Tim. iv. 1, 2, seq.), saying that “there shall come teachers giving heed to seducing spirits . . . forbidding to marry,” etc. This has been the cause of so much misery that it cannot be told, and has given occasion to the Greek Church to separate from us, and has caused infinite disunion, sin, shame and scandal, like everything that the Devil does or suggests. Now what are we to do?
My advice is, to restore liberty, and to leave every man free to marry or not to marry. But if we did this we should have to introduce a very different rule and order for property; the whole canon law would be overthrown and but few benefices would fall to Rome. I am afraid greed was a cause of this wretched, unchaste chastity; for the result of it was that every man wished to become a priest, or to have his son brought up to the priesthood—not with the intention of living in chastity, for this could be done without the priestly state, but to obtain his worldly support without labour or trouble, contrary to God’s command (Gen. iii.): “In the sweat of thy face shalt 60thou eat thy bread;” and they have given a colour to this commandment as though their work was praying and reading the mass. I am not here considering Popes, bishops, canons, clergy and monks, who were not ordained by God; they have laid burdens on themselves, and they may bear them. I speak of the office of parish priest, which God ordained, who must rule a congregation with sermons and the ministration of the sacraments, and must live with them and manage their own worldly affairs. These should have the liberty given them by a Christian Council to marry and to avoid danger and sin. For as God has not bound them, no one may bind them, though he were an angel from heaven—let alone the Pope; and whatever is contrary to this in the canon law is mere idle talk and invention.
My advice further is, whoever henceforth is ordained priest, he should in no wise take the vow of chastity, but should protest to the bishop that he has no authority to demand this vow, and that it is a devilish tyranny to demand it. But if one is forced, or wishes to say, as some do, “so far as human frailty permits,” let every man interpret that phrase as a plain negative, that is, “I do not promise chastity;” for human frailty does not allow men to live an unmarried life, but only angelic fortitude and celestial virtue. In this way he will have a clear conscience without any vow. I offer no opinion, one way or the other, whether those who have at present no wife should marry, or remain unmarried. This must be settled by the general order of the Church and by each man’s discretion. But I will not conceal my honest counsel, nor withhold comfort from that unhappy crowd who now live in trouble with wife and children, and remain in shame, with a heavy conscience, hearing their wife called a priest’s harlot, and the children bastards. And this I say frankly, by my fool’s privilege.
There is many a poor priest free from blame in all other respects, except that he has succumbed to human frailty and come to shame with a woman, both minded in their hearts to live together always in conjugal fidelity, if only they could do so with a good conscience, though, as it is, they live in public shame. I say, these two are surely married before God. I say, moreover, that when two are so minded, and so come to live together, they should save their conscience; let the man take the woman as his lawful wife, and live with her faithfully 61as her husband, without considering whether the Pope approve or not, or whether it is forbidden by canon law, or temporal. The salvation of your soul is of more importance than their tyrannous, arbitrary, wicked laws, which are not necessary for salvation, nor ordained by God. You should do as the children of Israel did, who stole from the Egyptians the wages they had earned; or as a servant steals his well-earned wages from a harsh master; in the same way do you also steal your wife and child from the Pope.
Let him who has faith enough to dare this, only follow me courageously: I will not mislead him. I may not have the Pope’s authority, yet I have the authority of a Christian to help my neighbour and to warn him against his sins and dangers. And here there is good reason for doing so.
a. It is not every priest that can do without a woman, not only on account of human frailty, but still more for his household. If, therefore, he takes a woman, and the Pope allows this, but will not let them marry, what is this but expecting a man and a woman to live together and not to fall? Just as if one were to set fire to straw, and command it should neither smoke nor burn.
b. The Pope having no authority for such a command, any more than to forbid a man to eat and drink, or to digest or to grow fat, no one is bound to obey it, and the Pope is answerable for every sin against it, for all the souls that it has brought to destruction, and for all the consciences that have been troubled and tormented by it. He has long deserved to be driven out of the world, so many poor souls has he strangled with this Devil’s rope; though I hope that God has shown many more mercy at their death than the Pope did in their life. No good has ever come and can ever come from the Papacy and its laws.
c. Even though the Pope’s laws forbid it, still after the married state has been entered, the Pope’s laws are superseded, and are valid no longer: for God has commanded that no man shall put asunder husband and wife, and this commandment is far above the Pope’s laws, and God’s command must not be cancelled or neglected for the Papal commands. It is true that mad lawyers have helped the Pope to invent impediments or hindrances to marriage, and thus troubled, divided, and perverted the married state: destroying the commandments of 62God. What need I say further? In the whole body of the Pope’s canon law, there are not two lines that can instruct a pious Christian, and so many false and dangerous ones, that it were better to treat it as waste paper.
But if you object that this would give offence, and that one must first obtain the Pope’s dispensation, I answer that if there is any offence in it, it is the fault of the See of Rome, which has made unjust and unholy laws. It is no offence to God and the Scriptures. Even where the Pope has power to grant dispensation for money by his covetous tyrannical laws, every Christian has power to grant dispensation in the same matter for the sake of Christ and the salvation of souls. For Christ has freed us from all human laws, especially when they are opposed to God and the salvation of souls, as St. Paul teaches. (Gal. v. 1, and 1 Cor. viii. 9, 10.)
15. I must not forget the poor convents. The evil spirit, who has troubled all estates of life by human laws, and made them unendurable, has taken possession of some Abbots, Abbesses, and Prelates, and led them so to rule their brothers and sisters, that they do but go soon to hell, and live a wretched life even upon earth, as is the case with all the Devil’s martyrs. For they have reserved in confession all, or at least some, deadly sins, which are secret, and from these no brother may on pain of excommunication and on his obedience absolve another. Now we do not always find angels everywhere, but men of flesh and blood, who would rather incur all excommunication and menace than confess their secret sins to a prelate or the confessor appointed for them; consequently they receive the sacrament with these sins on their conscience, by which they become irregular4343 Luther uses the expression irregulares, which was applied to those monks who were guilty of heresy, apostasy, transgression of the vow of chastity, etc. and suffer much misery. Oh blind shepherds! Oh foolish Prelates! Oh ravenous wolves! Now I say that in cases where a sin is public and notorious, it is only right that the Prelate alone should punish it, and such sins and no others he may reserve and except for himself; over private sins he has no authority, even though they may be the worst that can be committed or imagined. And if the Prelate excepts these, he becomes a tyrant and interferes with God’s judgment.63
Accordingly I advise these children, brothers and sisters: if your superiors will not allow you to confess your secret sins to whomsoever you will, then take them yourself, and confess them to your brother or sister, to whomsoever you will; be absolved and comforted, and then go or do what your wish or duty commands; only believe firmly that you have been absolved, and nothing more is necessary. And let not their threats of excommunication, or irregularity, or what not, trouble or disturb you; these only apply to public or notorious sins, if they are not confessed: you are not touched by them. How canst thou take upon thyself, thou blind Prelate, to restrain private sins by thy threats? Give up what thou canst not keep publicly; let God’s judgment and mercy also have its place with thy inferiors. He has not given them into thy hands so completely as to have let them go out of His own; nay, thou hast received the smaller portion. Consider thy statutes as nothing more than thy statutes, and do not make them equal to God’s judgment in Heaven.
16. It were also right to abolish annual festivals, processions, and masses for the dead, or at least to diminish their number; for we evidently see that they have become no better than a mockery, exciting the anger of God, and having no object but money getting, eating and drinking. How should it please God to hear the poor vigils and masses mumbled in this wretched way, neither read nor prayed? Even when they are properly read, it is not done freely for the love of God, but for the love of money and as payment of a debt. Now it is impossible that anything should please God, or win anything from Him that is not done freely, out of love for Him. Therefore, as true Christians, we ought to abolish or lessen a practice that we see is abused, and that angers God instead of appeasing Him. I should prefer, and it would be more agreeable to God’s will, and far better for a foundation, church or convent, to put all the yearly masses and vigils together into one mass, so that they would every year celebrate, on one day, a true vigil and mass with hearty sincerity, devotion and faith, for all their benefactors. This would be better than their thousand upon thousand masses said every year—each for a particular benefactor—without devotion and faith. My dear fellow-Christians! God cares not for much 64prayer, but for good prayer. Nay, He condemns long and frequent prayers (Matt. vi. 2, seq.), saying: “Verily I say unto you, they have their reward.” But it is the greed that cannot trust God by which such practices are set up; it is afraid it will die of starvation.
17. One should also abolish certain punishments inflicted by the canon law, especially the interdict, which is doubtless the invention of the evil one. Is it not the mark of the Devil to wish to better one sin by more and worse sins? It is surely a greater sin to silence God’s word and service, than if we were to kill twenty Popes at once, not to speak of a single priest or of keeping back the goods of the Church. This is one of those gentle virtues which are learnt in the Spiritual law; for the Canon or Spiritual law is so called because it comes from a spirit—not however from the Holy Spirit, but from the Evil Spirit.
Excommunication should not be used except where the Scriptures command it: that is, against those that have not the right faith, or that live in open sin, and not in matters of temporal goods. But now the case has been inverted; each man believes and lives as he pleases, especially those that plunder and disgrace others with excommunications; and all excommunications are now only in matters of worldly goods. For which we have no one to thank but the holy canonical injustice. But of all this I have spoken previously in a sermon.
The other punishments and penalties—suspension, irregularity, aggravation, re-aggravation, deposition,4444 Luther enumerates here the various grades of punishment inflicted on priests. The aggravation consisted of a threat of excommunication, after a thrice-repeated admonition, whilst the consequence of re-aggravation was immediate excommunication. thundering, lightning, cursing, damning and what not, all these should be buried ten fathoms deep in the earth, that their very name and memory may no longer live upon earth. The evil spirit, who was let loose by the spiritual law, has brought all this terrible plague and misery into the heavenly kingdom of the holy Church, and has thereby brought about nothing but the harm and destruction of souls, that we may well apply to it the words of Christ (Matt. xxiii. 13): “But woe unto you, 65scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.”
18. One should abolish all saints’ days, keeping only Sunday. But if it were desired to keep the festival of Our Lady and the greater saints, they should all be held on Sundays, or only in the morning with the mass; the rest of the day being a working day. My reason is this: with our present abuses of drinking, gambling, idling, and all manner of sin, we vex God more on holy days than on others. And the matter is just reversed; we have made holy days unholy, and working days holy, and do no service but great dishonour to God and His saints with all our holy days. There are some foolish prelates that think they have done a good deed, if they establish a festival to St. Otilia, or St. Barbara, and the like, each in his own blind fashion, whilst he would be doing a much better work to turn a saint’s day into a working day, in honour of a saint.
Besides these spiritual evils, these saints’ days inflict bodily injury on the common man in two ways: he loses a day’s work and he spends more than usual, besides weakening his body and making himself unfit for labour, as we see every day, and yet no one tries to improve it. One should not consider whether the Pope instituted these festivals, or whether we require his dispensation or permission. If anything is contrary to God’s will and harmful to men in body and soul, not only has every community, council or government authority to prevent and abolish such wrong without the knowledge or consent of Pope or bishop; but it is their duty, as they value their soul’s salvation, to prevent it, even though Pope and bishop (that should be the first to do so) are unwilling to see it stopped. And first of all we should abolish church wakes, since they are nothing but taverns, fairs and gaming places, to the greater dishonour of God and the damnation of souls. It is no good to make a talk about their having had a good origin and being good works. Did not God set aside His own law that He had given forth out of heaven, when He saw that it was abused? and does He not now reverse every day what He has appointed, and destroy what He has made, on account of the same perverse misuse, as it is written 66in the eighteenth Psalm (v. 26): “With the froward thou wilt show thyself froward.”
19. The degrees of relationship in which marriage is forbidden must be altered, such as so-called spiritual relations4545 Those, namely, between Sponsors at Baptism and their Godchildren. in the third and fourth degrees; and where the Pope at Rome can dispense in such matters for money, and make shameful bargains, every priest should have the power of granting the same dispensations freely for the salvation of souls. Would to God that all those things that have to be bought at Rome, for freedom from the golden noose of the canon law, might be given by any priest without payment, such as Indulgences, letters of Indulgences, letters of dispensation, mass letters, and all the other religious licences and knaveries at Rome by which the poor people are deceived and robbed! For if the Pope has the power to sell for money his golden snares, or canon nets (laws, I should say), much more has a priest the power to cancel them and to trample on them for God’s sake. But if he has no such power, then the Pope can have no authority to sell them in his shameful fair.
Besides this, fasts must be made optional, and every kind of food made free, as is commanded in the Gospels. (Matt. xv. 11.) For whilst at Rome they laugh at fasts, they let us abroad eat oil which they would not think fit for greasing their boots, and then sell us the liberty of eating butter and other things, whereas the Apostle says, that the Gospel has given us freedom in all such matters. (1 Cor. x. 25 seq.) But they have caught us in their canon law and have robbed us of this right, so that we have to buy it back from them; they have so terrified the consciences of the people, that one cannot preach this liberty without rousing the anger of the people, who think the eating of butter to be a worse sin than lying, swearing and unchastity. We may make of it what we will; it is but the work of man, and no good can ever come of it.
20. The country chapels and churches must be destroyed, such as those to which the new pilgrimages have been set on foot, Wilsnacht, Sternberg, Treves, the Grimmenthal, and now Ratisbon, and many others. Oh what a reckoning there will be for those bishops that allow these inventions of the Devil and make a profit out of them! They should be the 67first to stop it; they think that it is a godly, holy thing, and do not see that the Devil does this to strengthen covetousness, to teach false beliefs, to weaken parish churches, to increase drunkenness and debauchery, to waste money and labour, and simply to lead the poor people by the nose. If they had only studied the Scriptures as much as their accursed canon law, they would know well how to deal with the matter.
The miracles performed there prove nothing, for the Evil One can also show wonders, as Christ has taught us. (Matt. xxiv. 24.) If they took up the matter earnestly, and forbade such doings, the miracles would soon cease; or if they were done by God, they would not be prevented by their commands. And if there were nothing else to prove that these are not works of God, it would be enough that people go about turbulently and irrationally like herds of cattle, which could not possibly come from God. God has not commanded it; there is no obedience, and no merit in it; and therefore it should be vigorously interfered with and the people warned against it. For what is not commanded by God and goes beyond God’s commandments is surely the Devil’s own work. In this way also the parish churches suffer, in that they are less venerated. In fine, these pilgrimages are signs of great want of faith in the people; for if they truly believed, they would find all things in their own churches, where they are commanded to go.
But what is the use of my speaking? Every man thinks only how he may get up such a pilgrimage in his own district, not caring whether the people believes and lives rightly. The rulers are like the people—blind leaders of the blind. Where pilgrimages are a failure, they begin to glorify their saints; not to honour the saints, who are sufficiently honoured without them, but to cause a concourse, and to bring in money. Then Pope and bishops help them; it rains indulgences, and every one can afford to buy them; but what God has commanded no one cares for; no one runs after it, no one can afford any money for it. Alas for our blindness, that we not only suffer the Devil to have his way with his phantoms, but support him! I wish one would leave the good saints alone and not lead the poor people astray. What spirit gave the Pope authority to “glorify” the saints? Who tells him whether they are holy, or not holy? Are there not enough sins on 68earth, as it is, but we must tempt God, interfere in His judgment, and make money-bags of his saints? Therefore my advice is to let the saints glorify themselves; or rather, God alone should glorify them, and every man should keep to his own parish, where he will profit more than in all these shrines, even if they were all put together into one shrine. Here a man finds Baptism, the Sacrament, preaching, and his neighbour, and these are more than all the saints in Heaven, for it is by God’s word and sacrament that they have all been hallowed.
Our contempt for these great matters justifies God’s anger in giving us over to the devil to lead us astray, to get up pilgrimages, to found churches and chapels, to glorify the saints and to commit other like follies, by which we are led astray from the true faith into new false beliefs; just as he did in old time with the people of Israel, whom he led away from the temple to countless other places; all the while in God’s name, and with the appearance of holiness, against which all the prophets preached, suffering martyrdom for their words. But now no one preaches against it; and probably if he did, bishops, Popes, priests and monks would combine to martyr him. In this way Antonius of Florence and many others are made saints, so that their holiness may serve to produce glory and wealth, whereas otherwise they would have served simply as good examples for the glory of God.
Even if this glorification of the Saints had been good once, it is not good now; just as many other things were good once and are now occasion of offence and injurious, such as holidays, ecclesiastical treasures and ornaments. For it is evident that what is aimed at in the glorification of saints is not the glory of God, nor the bettering of Christendom, but money and fame alone; one church wishes to have an advantage over another, and would be sorry to see another church enjoying the same advantages. In this way they have in these latter days abused the goods of the Church so as to gain the goods of the world; so that everything, and even God Himself, must serve their avarice. Moreover these privileges cause nothing but dissensions and worldly pride; one church being different from the rest, they despise or magnify one 69another, whereas all goods that are of God should be common to all, and should serve to produce unity. This, too, is why they please the Pope, who would be sorry to see all Christians equal and at one with one another.
Here must be added that one should abolish, or treat as of no account, or give to all churches alike, the licences, bulls, and whatever the Pope sells at his flying-ground at Rome. For if he sells or gives to Wittenberg, to Halle, to Venice, and above all to his own city of Rome, special permissions, privileges, indulgences, graces, advantages, faculties, why does he not give them to all churches alike? Is it not his duty to do all that he can for all Christians without reward, solely for God’s sake, nay, even to shed his blood for them? Why then, I should like to know, does he give or sell these things to one church and not to another? Or does this accursed gold make a difference in his Holiness’s eyes between Christians who all alike have baptism, gospel, faith, Christ, God, and all things? Do they wish us to be blind, when our eyes can see, to be fools, when we have reason, that we should worship this greed, knavery and delusion? He is a shepherd forsooth—so long as you have money, no further; and yet they are not ashamed to practise all this knavery right and left with their bulls. They care only for that accursed gold and for nought besides.
Therefore my advice is this: If this folly is not done away with, let all pious Christians open their eyes and not be deceived by these Romish Bulls and seals, and all their specious pretences; let them stop at home in their own churches, and be satisfied with their Baptism, Gospel, Faith, Christ and God (who is everywhere the same), and let the Pope continue to be a blind leader of the blind. Neither Pope nor angel can give you as much as God gives you in your own parish; nay, he only leads you away from God’s gifts, which you have for nothing, to his own gifts, which you must buy; giving you lead for gold, skin for meat, strings for a purse, wax for honey, words for goods, the letter for the spirit; as you can see for yourselves though you will not perceive it. If you try to ride to heaven on the Pope’s wax and parchment, your carriage will soon break down and you will fall into hell, not in God’s name.70
Let this be a fixed rule for you, Whatever has to be bought of the Pope is neither good, nor of God. For whatever comes from God is not only given freely, but all the world is punished and condemned for not accepting it freely. So is it with the Gospel and the works of God. We have deserved to be led into these errors, because we have despised God’s holy word and the grace of baptism, as St. Paul says: “And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” (2 Thess. ii. 11, 12.)
21. It is one of the most urgent necessities to abolish all begging in Christendom. No one should go about begging among Christians. It would not be hard to do this, if we attempted it with good heart and courage: each town should support its own poor and should not allow strange beggars to come in—whatever they may call themselves: pilgrims or mendicant monks. Every town could feed its own poor; and if it were too small, the people in the neighbouring villages should be called upon to contribute. As it is, they have to support many knaves and vagabonds under the name of beggars. If they did what I propose, they would at least know who were really poor or not.
There should also be an overseer or guardian who should know all the poor, and should inform the town or council, or the priest, of their requirements; or some other similar provision might be made. There is no occupation, in my opinion, in which there is so much knavery and cheating as among beggars; and it could so easily be prevented. This general, unrestricted begging is, besides, injurious for the common people. I estimate that of the five or six orders of mendicant monks, each one visits every place more than six or seven times in the year; then there are the common beggars, messengers and pilgrims; in this way I calculate every city has a blackmail levied on it about sixty times a year, not counting rates and taxes paid to the civil government and the useless robberies of the Roman See; so that it is to my mind one of the greatest of God’s miracles how we manage to live and support ourselves.
Some may think that in this way the poor would not be well 71cared for, and that such great stone houses and convents would not be built, and not so plentifully, and I think so too. But there would be no harm in that. If a man will be poor, he should not be rich; if he will be rich, let him put his hand to the plough, and get wealth himself out of the earth. It is enough to provide decently for the poor, that they may not die of cold and hunger. It is not right, that one should work that another may be idle, and live ill that another may live well, as is now the perverse abuse, for St. Paul says (2 Thess. iii. 10): “If any would not work, neither should he eat.” God has not ordained that any one should live of the goods of others, except priests and ministers alone, as St. Paul says (1 Cor. ix. 14), for their spiritual work’s sake; as also Christ says to the Apostles (Luke x. 7): “The labourer is worthy of his hire.”
22. It is also to be feared that the many masses that have been founded in convents and foundations, instead of doing any good, arouse God’s anger; wherefore it would be well to endow no more masses and to abolish many of those that have been endowed; for we see that they are only looked upon as sacrifices and good works, though in truth they are sacraments like baptism and confession, and as such profit him only that receives them. But now the custom obtains of saying masses for the living and the dead, and everything is based upon them. This is the reason why there are so many, and that they have come to be what we see.
But perhaps all this is a new and unheard of doctrine, especially in the eyes of those that fear to lose their livelihood, if these masses were abolished. I must therefore reserve what I have to say on this subject until men have arrived at a truer understanding of the mass, its nature and use. The mass has, alas! for so many years been turned into means of gaining a livelihood, that I should advise a man to become a shepherd, a labourer, rather than a priest, or monk, unless he knows what the mass is.
All this, however, does not apply to the old foundations and chapters; which were doubtless founded in order that, since according to the custom of Germany all the children of nobles cannot be landowners and rulers, they should be provided for in these foundations, and these serve God freely, study and become learned themselves, and help others to acquire learning. I 72am speaking only of the new foundations, endowed for prayers and masses, by the example of which the old foundations have become burdened with the like prayers and masses, making them of very little, if of any use. Through God’s righteous punishment they have at last come down to the dregs as they deserve; that is, to the noise of singers and organs, and cold, spiritless masses, with no end but to gain and spend the money due to them. Popes, bishops and doctors should examine and report on such things; as it is they are the guiltiest, allowing anything that brings them money; the blind ever leading the blind. This comes of covetousness and the canon law.
It must, moreover, not be allowed in future that one man should have more than one endowment or prebend. He should be content with a moderate position in life, so that others may have something besides himself; and thus we must put a stop to the excuses of those that say that they must have more than one office to enable them to live in their proper station. It is possible to estimate one’s proper station in such a way, that a whole kingdom would not suffice to maintain it. So it is that covetousness and want of faith in God go hand in hand, and often men take for the requirements of their station what is mere covetousness and want of faith.
23. As for the fraternities, together with indulgences, letters of indulgence, dispensations, masses and all the rest of such things, let it all be drowned and abolished; there is no good in it at all. If the Pope has the authority to grant dispensation in the matter of eating butter and hearing masses, let him allow priests to do the same; he has no right to take the power from them. I speak also of the fraternities in which indulgences, masses, and good works are distributed. My friend, in baptism you joined a fraternity of which Christ, the angels, the saints and all Christians are members; be true to this, and satisfy it, and you will have fraternities enough. Let others make what show they wish; they are as counters compared to coins. But if there were a fraternity that subscribed money to feed the poor, or to help others in any way, this would be good, and it would have its indulgence and its deserts in Heaven. But now they are good for nothing but gluttony and drunkenness.73
First of all we should expel from all German lands the Pope’s legates with their faculties, which they sell to us for much money, though it is all knavery; as, for instance, their taking money for making goods unlawfully acquired to be good, for freeing from oaths, vows, and bonds, thus destroying and teaching others to destroy truth and faith mutually pledged; saying the Pope has authority to do so. It is the Evil Spirit that bids them talk thus, and so they sell us the Devil’s teaching, and take money for teaching us sins and leading us to hell.
If there were nothing else to show that the Pope is Antichrist, this would be enough. Dost thou hear this, O Pope! not the most holy, but the most sinful? Would that God would hurl thy Chair headlong from heaven, and cast it down into the abyss of hell! Who gave you the power to exalt yourself above your God? To break and to loose what He has commanded? To teach Christians, more especially Germans, who are of noble nature, and are famed in all histories for uprightness and truth, to be false, unfaithful, perjured, treacherous and wicked? God has commanded to keep faith and observe oaths even with enemies; you dare to cancel this command, laying it down in your heretical, antichristian decretals, that you have power to do so; and through your mouth and your pen Satan lies as he never lied before, teaching you to twist and pervert the Scriptures according to your own arbitrary will. O, Lord Christ! look down upon this, let Thy day of judgment come and destroy the Devil’s lair at Rome. Behold him of whom St. Paul spoke (2 Thess. ii., 3, 4), that he should exalt himself above Thee and sit in Thy Church, showing himself as God—the man of sin, and the child of damnation. What else does the Pope’s power do, but teach and strengthen sin and wickedness, leading souls to damnation in Thy name?
The children of Israel in old times kept the oath that they had sworn, in ignorance and error, to the Gibeonites, their enemies. And King Zedekiah was destroyed utterly with his people, because he broke the oath that he had sworn to the King of Babylon. And among us, a hundred years ago, the noble King Ladislaus V. of Poland and Hungary was slain by the Turk with so many of his people, because he allowed 74himself to be misled by Papal legates and cardinals, and broke the good and useful treaty that he had made with the Turk. The pious Emperor Sigismond had no good fortune after the Council of Constance, in which he allowed the knaves to violate the safe conduct that he had promised to John Huss and Jerome; from this has followed all the miserable strife between Bohemia and ourselves. And in our own time, God help us! how much Christian blood has been shed on account of the oath and bond which Pope Julius made and unmade between the Emperor Maximilian and King Lewis of France! How can I tell all the misery the Popes have caused by such devilish insolence, claiming the power of breaking oaths between great lords, causing a shameful scandal for the sake of money! I hope the day of judgment is at hand; things cannot and will not become worse than the dealings of the Roman Chair. The Pope treads God’s commandments under foot and exalts his own; if this is not Antichrist I do not know what is. But of this and to more purpose another time.
24. It is high time to take up earnestly and truthfully the cause of the Bohemians, to unite them with ourselves and ourselves with them, so that all mutual accusations, envy and hatred may cease. I will be the first, in my capacity of fool, to give my opinion, with all due deference to those of better understanding.
First of all, we must honestly confess the truth, without attempting self-justification, and own one thing to the Bohemians, namely, that John Huss and Jerome of Prague were burnt at Constance in violation of the Papal, Christian, and Imperial oath and safe conduct, and that thus God’s commandment was broken and the Bohemians excited to great anger. And though, no doubt, they ought to have been perfect men, and have patiently endured this wrong and disobedience to God, yet we cannot expect them to approve it and think it right. Nay, even now they should run any danger of life and limb rather than own that it is right to break an Imperial, Papal, Christian safe conduct and act faithlessly in opposition to it. Therefore, though the Bohemians may be to blame for their impatience, yet the Pope and his followers are most to blame for all the misery, all the error and destruction of souls, that followed this Council of Constance.75
It is not my intention here to judge John Huss’s belief and to defend his errors; although my understanding has not been able to find any error in him, and I would willingly believe that men who violated a safe conduct and God’s commandment (doubtless possessed rather by the evil spirit than by the Spirit of God) were unable to judge well or to condemn with truth. No one can imagine that the Holy Ghost can break God’s commandments; no one can deny that it is breaking God’s commandments to violate faith and a safe conduct, even though it were promised to the devil himself, much more then in the case of a heretic; it is also notorious that a safe conduct was promised to John Huss and the Bohemians, and that the promise was broken and Huss was burnt. I have no wish to make a saint or a martyr of John Huss (as some Bohemians do), though I own that he was treated unjustly, and that his books and his doctrines were wrongfully condemned; for God’s judgments are inscrutable and terrible, and none but Himself may reveal or explain them.
All I say is this: Granting he was a heretic, however bad he may have been, yet he was burnt unjustly and in violation of God’s commandments, and we must not require the Bohemians to approve this, if we wish ever to be at one with them. Plain truth must unite us, not obstinacy. It is no use to say, as they said at the time, that a safe conduct need not be kept, if promised to a heretic; that is as much as to say, one may break God’s commandments, in order to keep God’s commandments. They were infatuated and blinded by the Devil, that they could not see what they said or did. God has commanded us to observe a safe conduct; and this we must do though the world should perish, much more then where it is only a question of a heretic being let free. We should overcome heretics with books, not with fire, as the old Fathers did. If there were any skill in overcoming heretics with fire the executioner would be the most learned doctor in the world; and there would be no need to study, but he that could get another into his power could burn him.
Besides this, the Emperor and the Princes should send to Bohemia several pious, learned bishops and doctors, but, for their life, no cardinal or legate or inquisitor, for such people are far too unlearned in all Christian matters, and do not 76seek the salvation of souls; but like all the Papal hypocrites, they seek only their own glory, profit and honour; they were also the leaders in that calamitous affair at Constance. But those learned men should inquire into the faith of the Bohemians to ascertain whether it would be possible to unite all their sects into one. Moreover the Pope should (for their souls’ sake) for a time abandon his supremacy and, in accordance with the statutes of the Nicene Council, allow the Bohemians to choose for themselves an Archbishop of Prague. This choice to be confirmed by the Bishops of Olmütz in Moravia, or of Grun in Hungary, or the Bishop of Gnesen in Poland, or the Bishop of Magdeburg in Germany. It is enough that it be confirmed by one or two of these bishops, as in the time of St. Cyprian. And the Pope has no authority to forbid it; if he forbids it, he acts as a wolf and a tyrant, and no one should obey him, but answer his excommunication by excommunicating him.
Yet if, for the honour of the Chair of St. Peter, any one prefers to do this with the Pope’s knowledge, I do not object, provided that the Bohemians do not pay a farthing for it, and that the Pope do not bind them a single hair’s breadth, or subject them to his tyranny by oath, as he does all other bishops, against God and justice. If he is not satisfied with the honour of his assent being asked, leave him alone by all means with his own rights, laws, and tyrannies; be content with the election, and let the blood of all the souls that are in danger be upon his head. For no man may countenance wrong, and we have already shown enough respect to tyranny. If we cannot do otherwise, we may consider the popular election and consent as equal to a tyrannical confirmation; but I hope this will not be necessary. Sooner or later some Romans, or pious bishops and learned men, must perceive and avert the Pope’s tyranny.
I do not advise that they be forced to abandon the sacrament in both kinds, for it is neither unchristian nor heretical. They should be allowed to continue in their present way; but the new bishop must see that there be no dissensions about this matter, and they must learn that neither practice is actually wrong; just as there need be no disputes about the priests not wearing the same dress as the laity. In the same way, if they do not wish to submit to the canon laws of the 77Roman Church, we must not force them, but we must content ourselves with seeing that they live in faith and according to the Scriptures. For Christian life and Christian faith may very well exist without the Pope’s unbearable laws; nay, they cannot well exist until there are fewer of those laws or none. Our baptism has freed us and made us subject to God’s word alone, why then should we suffer a man to make us the slaves of his words? As St. Paul says: “Stand fast, therefore, in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” (Gal. v. 1.)
If I knew that the only error of the Hussites4646 Luther uses here the word “Pickarten,” which is a corruption of Begharden, i.e. “Beghards,” a nickname frequently applied in those days to the Hussites. was that they believe that in the sacrament of the altar there is true bread and wine, though under it the body and the blood of Christ; if, I say, this were their only error, I should not condemn them; but let the Bishop of Prague see to this. For it is not an article of faith that in the sacrament there is bread and wine in substance and nature, which is a delusion of St. Thomas and the Pope: but it is an article of faith, that in the natural bread and wine there is Christ’s true flesh and blood. We should accordingly tolerate the views of both parties until they are at one; for there is not much danger whether you believe there is, or there is not, bread in the sacrament. For we have to suffer many forms of belief and order that do not injure the Faith; but if they believe otherwise, it would be better not to unite with them, and yet to instruct them in the truth.
All other errors and dissensions to be found in Bohemia should be tolerated until the Archbishop has been reinstated, and has succeeded, in time, in uniting the whole people in one harmonious doctrine. We shall never unite them by force, by driving or hurrying them. We must be patient, and use gentleness. Did not Christ have to walk with His disciples, suffering their unbelief, until they believed in His resurrection? If they had but once more a regular bishop, and good discipline without Romish tyranny, I think matters would mend.
The temporal possessions of the Church should not be too 78strictly claimed; but since we are Christians and bound to help one another, we have the right to give them these things for the sake of unity, and to let them keep them, before God and the world; for Christ says: “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.” Would to God, we helped on both sides to bring about this unity, giving our hands one to the other in brotherly humility, not insisting on our authority or our rights! Love is more, and more necessary than the Papacy at Rome; the Papacy can exist without love, and love can exist without the Papacy. I hope I have done my best for this end. If the Pope or his followers hinder this good work, they will have to give an account of their actions, for having, against the love of God, sought their own advantage more than their neighbours’. The Pope should abandon his Papacy, all his possessions and honours, if he could save a soul by so doing. But he would rather see the world go to ruin than give up a hair’s breadth of the power he has usurped; and yet he would be our most holy father! Herewith am I at least excused.
25. The Universities also require a good, sound Reformation. I must say this, let it vex whom it may. The fact is that whatever the Papacy has ordered or instituted is only designed for the propagation of sin and error. What are the Universities, as at present ordered, but as the Book of Maccabees says: “Schools of ‘Greek fashion’ and ‘heathenish manners.”’ (2 Maccab. iv. 12, 13); full of dissolute living, where very little is taught of the Holy Scriptures and of the Christian faith, and the blind heathen teacher, Aristotle, rules even further than Christ. Now, my advice would be that the books of Aristotle, the ‘Physics,’ the ‘Metaphysics,’ ‘Of the Soul,’ ‘Ethics,’ which have hitherto been considered the best, be altogether abolished, with all others that profess to treat of nature, though nothing can be learned from them, either of natural or of spiritual things. Besides, no one has been able to understand his meaning, and much time has been wasted, and many noble souls vexed, with much useless labour, study, and expense. I venture to say that any potter has more knowledge of natural things than is to be found in these books. My heart is grieved to see how many of the best Christians this accursed, proud, knavish heathen has fooled 79and led astray with his false words. God sent him as a plague for our sins.
Does not the wretched man in his best book, ‘Of the Soul,’ teach that the soul dies with the body; though many have tried to save him with vain words, as if we had not the Holy Scriptures to teach us fully of all things, of which Aristotle had not the slightest perception. Yet this dead heathen has conquered, and has hindered and almost suppressed the books of the living God; so that, when I see all this misery, I cannot but think that the evil spirit has introduced this study.
Then there is the ‘Ethics,’ which is accounted one of the best, though no book is more directly contrary to God’s will and the Christian virtues. Oh, that such books could be kept out of the reach of all Christians! Let no one object that I say too much, or speak without knowledge. My friend, I know of what I speak. I know Aristotle as well as you or men like you. I have read him with more understanding than St. Thomas or Scotus; which I may say without arrogance, and can prove if need be. It matters not that so many great minds have exercised themselves in these matters for many hundred years. Such objections do not affect me as they might have done once; since it is plain as day that many more errors have existed for many hundred years in the world and the Universities.
I would, however, gladly consent that Aristotle’s books of Logic, Rhetoric and Poetic should be retained; or they might be usefully studied in a condensed form, to practise young people in speaking and preaching; but the notes and comments should be abolished, and just as Cicero’s Rhetoric is read without note or comment, Aristotle’s Logic should be read without such long commentaries. But now neither speaking nor preaching are taught out of them, and they are used only for disputation and confusion. Besides this there are languages, Latin, Greek and Hebrew, the Mathematics, History; but this I leave to men of higher understanding; if they seriously strive after reform, all these things will come of themselves. And truly it is an important matter! for it concerns the teaching and training of Christian youths and of our noble people, in whom Christianity still abides. Therefore I think that Pope and Emperor could have no better task than the reformation of 80the Universities, just as there is nothing more devilishly mischievous than an unreformed University.
Physicians I would leave to reform their own faculty; Lawyers and Theologians I take under my charge, and say firstly, that it would be right to abolish the canon law entirely, from beginning to end, more especially the decretals. We are taught quite sufficiently in the Bible how we ought to act; all this study only prevents the study of the Scriptures, and for the most part it is tainted with covetousness and pride. And even though there were some good in it, it should nevertheless be destroyed, for the Pope having the canon law in scrinio pectoris,4747 In the shrine of his heart. all further study is useless and deceitful. At the present time the canon law is not to be found in the books, but in the whims of the Pope and his sycophants. You may have settled a matter in the best possible way according to the canon law, but the Pope has his scrinium pectoris, to which all law must bow in all the world. Now this scrinium is oftentimes directed by some knave, and the devil himself, whilst it boasts that it is directed by the Holy Ghost. This is the way they treat Christ’s poor people, imposing many laws and keeping none; forcing others to keep them, or to free themselves by money.
Therefore since the Pope and his followers have cancelled the whole canon law, despising it and setting their own will above all the world, we should follow them and reject the books. Why should we study them to no purpose? We should never be able to know the Pope’s caprice, which has now become the canon law. Let it fall then in God’s name, after having risen in the devil’s name. Let there be henceforth no doctor decretorum, but let them all be doctores scrinii papalis, that is, the Pope’s sycophants. They say that there is no better temporal government than among the Turks, though they have no canon nor civil law, but only their Koran; we must at least own that there is no worse government than ours with its canon and civil law, for no estate lives according to the Scriptures, or even according to natural reason.
The civil law, too, good God! what a wilderness it is become! It is, indeed, much better, more skilful and more honest than the canon law, of which nothing is good but the name. Still 81there is far too much of it. Surely good governors, judging according to the Scriptures, would be law enough, as St. Paul says: “Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? No, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren?” (1 Cor. vi. 5.) I think also that the common law and the usage of the country should be preferred to the law of the Empire, and that the law of the Empire should only be used in cases of necessity. And would to God that, as each land has its own peculiar character and nature, they could all be governed by their own simple laws, just as they were governed before the law of the Empire was devised, and as many are governed even now! Elaborate and far-fetched laws are only burdensome to the people, and a hindrance rather than a help to business. But I hope that others have thought of this, and considered it to more purpose than I could.
Our worthy Theologians have saved themselves much trouble and labour by leaving the Bible alone and only reading the Sentences.4848 Luther refers here to the ‘Sentences’ of Petrus Lombardus, the so-called magister sententiarum, which formed the basis of all dogmatic interpretation from about the middle of the 12th century down to the Reformation. I should have thought that young Theologians might begin by studying the Sentences and that Doctors should study the Bible. Now they invert this: the Bible is the first thing they study; this ceases with the Bachelor’s degree; the Sentences are the last, and these they keep for ever with the Doctor’s degree; and this too under such sacred obligation that one that is not a priest may read the Bible, but a priest must read the Sentences; so that, as far as I can see, a married man might be a Doctor in the Bible, but not in the Sentences. How should we prosper so long as we act so perversely, and degrade the Bible, the holy word of God? Besides this, the Pope orders with many stringent words that his laws be read and used in schools and courts; while the law of the Gospel is but little considered. The result is that in schools and courts the Gospel lies dusty on the shelf, so that the Pope’s mischievous laws may alone be in force.
Since, then, we hold the name and title of teachers of the Holy Scriptures, we should verily be forced to act according to our title, and to teach the Holy Scriptures and nothing else. 82Although, indeed, it is a proud, presumptuous title, for a man to proclaim himself teacher of the Scriptures, still it could be suffered, if the works confirmed the title. But as it is, under the rule of the Sentences, we find among Theologians more human and heathenish fallacies than true holy knowledge of the Scriptures. What then are we to do? I know not, except to pray humbly to God to give us Doctors of Theology. Doctors of Arts, of Medicine, of Law, of the Sentences, may be made by Popes, Emperors and the Universities; but of this we may be certain, a Doctor of the Holy Scriptures can be made by none but the Holy Ghost, as Christ says: “They shall all be taught of God.” (John vi. 45.) Now the Holy Ghost does not consider red caps or brown, or any other pomp; nor whether we are young or old, layman or priest, monk or secular, virgin or married; nay, he once spoke by an ass against the prophet that rode on it. Would to God we were worthy of having such Doctors given us, be they laymen or priests, married or virgin! but now they try to force the Holy Ghost to enter into Popes, Bishops or Doctors, though there is no sign to show that He is in them.
We must also lessen the number of theological books, and choose the best; for it is not the number of books that make the learned man; nor much reading, but good books often read, however few, make a man learned in the Scriptures and pious. Even the Fathers should only be read for a short time as an introduction to the Scriptures. As it is, we read nothing else, and never get from them into the Scriptures, as if one should be gazing at the sign-posts and never follow the road. These good Fathers wished to lead us into the Scriptures by their writings, whereas we lead ourselves out by them, though the Scriptures are our vineyard in which we should all work and exercise ourselves.
Above all, in schools of all kinds the chief and most common lesson should be the Scriptures, and for young boys the Gospel; and would to God each town had also a girl’s school in which girls might be taught the Gospel for an hour daily, either in German or Latin! In truth, schools, monasteries and convents, were founded for this purpose, and with good Christian intentions; as we read concerning St. Agnes, and other saints;4949 See above p. 58. then 83were there holy virgins and martyrs; and in those times it was well with Christendom; but now it has been turned into nothing but praying and singing. Should not every Christian be expected by his ninth or tenth year to know all the holy Gospels, containing as they do his very name and life? A spinner or a seamstress teaches her daughter her trade, while she is young, but now even the most learned Prelates and Bishops do not know the Gospel.
Oh, how badly we treat all these poor young people that are entrusted to us for discipline and instruction! and a heavy reckoning shall we have to give for it that we keep them from the word of God; their fate is that described by Jeremiah: “Mine eyes do fail with tears, my bowels are troubled, my liver is poured upon the earth, for the destruction of the daughter of my people; because the children and the sucklings swoon in the streets of the city. They say to their mothers, Where is corn and wine? when they swooned as the wounded in the streets of the city, when their soul is poured out into their mothers’ bosom.” (Lamen. ii. 11, 12.) We do not perceive all this misery, how the young folk are being pitifully corrupted in the midst of Christendom, all for want of the Gospel, which we should always read and study with them.
However, if the high schools studied the Scriptures diligently we should not send every one to them, as we do now, when nothing is considered but numbers, and every man wishes to have a Doctor’s title; we should only send the aptest pupils, well prepared in the lower schools. This should be seen to by princes or the magistrates of the towns, and they should take care none but apt pupils be sent. But where the Holy Scriptures are not the rule, I advise no one to send his child. Everything must perish where God’s word is not studied unceasingly; and so we see what manner of men there are now in the high schools, and all this is the fault of no one but of the Pope, the Bishops and the Prelates, to whom the welfare of the young has been entrusted. For the High Schools should train men simply to be of good understanding in the Scriptures, fit to become bishops and priests, and to stand at our head against heretics and the Devil and all the world. But where do we find this? I greatly fear the High Schools are nothing but great gates of hell, unless 84they diligently study the Holy Scriptures and teach them to the young people.
26. I know well the Romish mob will object and loudly pretend that the Pope took the Holy Roman Empire from the Greek Emperor and gave it to Germany, for which honour and favour he is supposed to deserve submission and thanks and all other kinds of returns from the Germans. For this reason we are not to presume to make any attempt to reform them, and we are to consider nothing but these gifts of the Roman Empire. This is also the reason why they have so arbitrarily and proudly persecuted and oppressed many good Emperors, so that it were pity to tell, and with the same cleverness have they made themselves lords of all the temporal power and authority, in violation of the holy Gospel; and accordingly I must speak of this matter also.
There is no doubt that the true Roman Empire, of which the prophets (Num. xxiv. 24) and Daniel (ii. 44) spoke, was long ago destroyed, as Balaam clearly foretold, saying: “And ships shall come from the coast of Chittim, and shall afflict Asshur, and shall afflict Eber, and he also shall perish for ever.” (Num. xxiv. 24.)5050 Luther here follows the Vulgate, translating the above verse by: “Es werden die Römer kommen und die Juden verstören: und hernach werden sie auch untergehen.” And this was done by the Goths, and more especially since the empire of the Turks was formed, about one thousand years ago, and so gradually Asia and Africa were lost, and subsequently France, Spain, and finally Venice arose, so that Rome retains no part of its former power.
Since, then, the Pope could not force the Greeks and the Emperor at Constantinople, who is the hereditary Roman Emperor, to obey his will, he invented this device to rob him of his empire and title, and to give it to the Germans, who were at that time strong and of good repute; in order that they might take the power of the Roman Empire and hold it of the Pope; and this is what actually has happened. It was taken from the Emperor at Constantinople, and the name and title were given to us Germans, and therewith we became subject to the Pope, and he has built up a new Roman Empire on the Germans. For the other Empire, the original, came to an end long ago, as was said above.85
Thus the Roman See has got what it wished: Rome has been taken possession of, and the German Emperor driven out and bound by oaths not to dwell in Rome. He is to be Roman Emperor and nevertheless not to dwell in Rome; and moreover always to depend on the Pope and his followers, and to do their will. We are to have the title, and they are to have the lands and the cities. For they have always made our simplicity the tool of their pride and tyranny, and they consider us as stupid Germans to be deceived and fooled by them as they choose.
Well, for our Lord God it is a small thing to toss kingdoms and principalities hither and thither; He is so free with them, that He will sometimes take a kingdom from a good man and give it to a knave; sometimes through the treachery of false, wicked men; sometimes by inheritance, as we read concerning Persia, Greece, and nearly all kingdoms; and Daniel says: “Wisdom and might are His: and He changes the times and the seasons, and He removeth Kings and setteth up Kings.” (Dan. ii. 20, 21.) Therefore, no one need think it a grand matter, if he has a kingdom given to him, especially if he be a Christian; and so we Germans need not be proud of having had a new Roman Empire given us. For in His eyes, it is a poor gift, that He sometimes gives to the least deserving; as Daniel says: “And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; and He does according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth.” (Dan. iv. 35.)
Now although the Pope has violently and unjustly robbed the true Emperor of the Roman Empire, or its name, and has given it to us Germans, yet it is certain that God has used the Pope’s wickedness to give the German nation this Empire and to raise up a new Roman Empire, that exists now, after the fall of the old Empire. We gave the Pope no cause for this action, nor did we understand his false aims and schemes; but still, through the craft and knavery of the Popes, we have, alas! all too dearly, paid the price of this Empire with incalculable bloodshed, with the loss of our liberty, with the robbery of our wealth, especially of our churches and benefices, and with unspeakable treachery and insult. We have the Empire in name, but the Pope has our wealth, our honour, our bodies, lives and souls, and all that we have. This was the way to deceive the Germans, and with a double deceit. What the Popes wished 86was, to become Emperors; and as they could not do this, they put themselves above the Emperors.
Since, then, we have received this Empire through God’s providence and the schemes of evil men, without our fault, I would not advise that we should give it up, but that we should govern it honestly, in the fear of God, so long as He is pleased to let us hold it. For, as I have said, it is no matter to Him how a kingdom is come by, but He will have it duly governed. If the Popes took it from others dishonestly, we, at least, did not come by it dishonestly. It was given to us through evil men, under the will of God, to whom we have more regard than the false intentions of the Popes, who wished to be Emperors and more than Emperors, and to fool and mock us with the name.
The King of Babylon obtained his kingdom by force and robbery. Yet God would have it governed by the holy princes, Daniel, Ananias, Asarias and Misael. Much more then does He require this Empire to be governed by the Christian princes of Germany, though the Pope may have stolen or robbed, or newly fashioned it. It is all God’s ordering, which came to pass before we knew of it.
Therefore the Pope and his followers have no reason to boast, that they did a great kindness to the German nation in giving them this Roman Empire. Firstly, because they intended no good to us in the matter; but only abused our simplicity to strengthen their own power against the Roman Emperor at Constantinople, from whom, against God and justice, the Pope has taken what he had no right to.
Secondly, the Pope sought to give the Empire, not to us, but to himself, and to become lord over all our power, liberty, wealth, body and soul, and through us over all the world, if God had not prevented it; as he plainly says in his decretals, and has tried with many mischievous tricks in the case of many German Emperors. Thus we Germans have been prettily taught German: Whilst we expected to become lords, we have become the servants of the most crafty tyrants; we have the name, title and arms of the Empire, but the Pope has the treasure, authority, law and freedom; thus whilst the Pope eats the kernel, he leaves us the empty shells to play with.
Now may God help us (who, as I have said, assigned us 87this kingdom through crafty tyrants, and charged us to govern it) to act according to our name, title and arms, and to secure our freedom; and thus let the Romans see at last what we have received of God through them. If they boast that they have given us an Empire; well, be it so, by all means: then, let the Pope give up Rome, all he has of the Empire, and free our country from his unbearable taxes and robberies, and give back to us our liberty, authority, wealth, honour, body and soul, rendering to the Empire those things that are the Empire’s; so as to act in accordance with his words and pretences.
But if he will not do this, what game is he playing with all his falsehoods and pretences? Was it not enough to lead this great people by the nose for so many hundred years? Because the Pope crowns or makes the Emperor, it does not follow that he is above him; for the prophet, St. Samuel, anointed and crowned King Saul and David, at God’s command, and was yet subject to them. And the prophet Nathan anointed King Solomon, and yet was not placed over him; moreover St. Elisha let one of his servants anoint King Jehu of Israel; yet they obeyed him. And it has never yet happened in the whole world that any one was above the king, because he consecrated or crowned him, except in the case of the Pope.
Now he is himself crowned Pope by three cardinals; yet they are subject to him and he is above them. Why then, contrary to his own example, and to the doctrine and practice of the whole world and the Scriptures, should he exalt himself above the temporal authorities and the Empire, for no other reason than that he crowns and consecrates the Emperor? It suffices that he is above him in all divine matters, that is in preaching, teaching and the ministration of the sacrament, in which matters, however, every priest or bishop is above all other men; just as St. Ambrose in his Chair was above the Emperor Theodosius, and the prophet Nathan above David, and Samuel above Saul. Therefore let the German Emperor be a true free Emperor, and let not his authority or his sword be overborne by these blind pretences of the Pope’s sycophants, as if they were to be exceptions, and be above the temporal sword in all things.
27. Let this be enough about the faults of the spiritual Estate, though many more might be found, if the matter were 88properly considered: we must now consider the defects of the temporal Estates. In the first place, we require a general law and consent of the German nation against profusion and extravagance in dress, which is the cause of so much poverty among the nobles and the people. Surely God has given to us, as to other nations, enough wool, fur, flax, and whatever else is required for the decent clothing of every class; and it cannot be necessary to spend such enormous sums for silk, velvet, cloth of gold and all other kinds of outlandish stuff. I think that even if the Pope did not rob us Germans with his unbearable taxes, we should be robbed more than enough by these secret thieves, the dealers in silk and velvet. As it is we see that every man wishes to be every other man’s equal, and that this causes and increases pride and envy among us, as we deserve; all which would cease, with many other misfortunes, if our self-will would but let us be gratefully content with what God has given us.
It is similarly necessary to diminish the use of spices, which is one of the ships in which our gold is sent away from Germany. God’s mercy has given us more food, and that both precious and good, than is to be found in other countries. I shall probably be accused of making foolish and impossible suggestions, as if I wished to destroy the great business of commerce. But I am only doing my part; if the community does not mend matters, every man must do it himself. I do not see many good manners that have ever come into a land through commerce, and therefore God let the people of Israel dwell far from the sea and not carry on much trade.
But without doubt the greatest misfortune of the Germans is buying on credit. But for this, many a man would have to leave unbought his silk, velvet, cloth of gold, spices and all other luxuries. The system has not been in force for more than one hundred years, and has already brought poverty, misery, and destruction on almost all princes, foundations, cities, nobles and heirs. If it continues for another hundred years Germany will be left without a farthing, and we shall be reduced to eating one another. The Devil invented this system, and the Pope has done an injury to the whole world by sanctioning it.
My request and my cry, therefore, is this: Let each man 89see to the destruction of himself and his family, which is no longer at the door, but has entered the house; and let Emperors, Princes, Lords and Corporations, see to the condemnation and prohibition of this kind of trade, without considering the opposition of the Pope and all his justice and injustice, nor whether livings or endowments depend upon it. Better a single foundation in a city based on a freehold estate or honest interest, than a hundred based on credit; yea, a single endowment on credit is worse and more grievous than twenty based on real estate. Truly this credit is a sign and warning, that the world has been given over to the Devil for its sins; and that we are losing our spiritual and temporal welfare alike; yet we heed it not.
Doubtless we should also find some bridle for the Fuggers and similar companies. Is it possible that in a single man’s lifetime such great wealth should be collected together, if all were done rightly and according to God’s will? I am not skilled in accounts. But I do not understand how it is possible for one hundred guilders to gain twenty in a year, or how one guilder can gain another, and that not out of the soil, or by cattle, seeing that possessions depend not on the wit of men, but on the blessing of God. I commend this to those that are skilled in worldly affairs. I as a theologian blame nothing but the evil appearance, of which St. Paul says: “abstain from all appearance of evil.” (1 Thess. v. 22.) All I know is that it were much more godly to encourage agriculture and lessen commerce; and that they do the best who, according to the Scriptures, till the ground to get their living, as we are all commanded in Adam: “Cursed is the ground for thy sake. . . . Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee. . . . In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.” (Gen. iii. 17-19.) There is still much ground that is not ploughed or tilled.
Then there is the excess in eating and drinking, for which we Germans have an ill reputation in foreign countries, as our special vice, and which has become so common, and gained so much the upper hand, that sermons avail nothing. The loss of money caused by it is not the worst; but in its train come murder, adultery, theft, blasphemy and all vices. The temporal power should do something to prevent it; otherwise it will come to pass, as Christ foretold, that the last day shall 90come as a thief in the night, and shall find them eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, planting and building, buying and selling (Matt. xxiv. 38; Luke xvii. 26)—just as things go on now; and that so strongly, that I apprehend lest the day of judgment be at hand, even now when we least expect it.
Lastly, is it not a terrible thing that we Christians should maintain public brothels, though we all vow chastity in our baptism? I well know all that can be said on this matter, that it is not peculiar to one nation, that it would be difficult to alter it, and that it is better thus than that virgins, or married women, or honourable women should be dishonoured. But should not the spiritual and temporal powers combine to find some means of meeting these difficulties without any such heathen practice? If the people of Israel existed without this scandal, why should not a Christian nation be able to do so? How do so many towns and villages manage to exist without these houses? Why should not great cities be able to do so?
In all, however, that I have said above, my object has been to show how much good temporal authority might do, and what should be the duty of all authorities, so that every man might learn what a terrible thing it is to rule and to have the chief place. What boots it though a ruler be in his own person as holy as St. Peter, if he be not diligent to help his subjects in these matters? His very authority will be his condemnation; for it is the duty of those in authority to seek the good of their subjects. But if those in authority considered how young people might be brought together in marriage, the prospect of marriage would help every man, and protect him from temptations.
But as it is, every man is urged to become a priest or a monk; and of all these I am afraid not one in a hundred has any other motive, but the wish of getting a livelihood, and the uncertainty of maintaining a family. Therefore they begin by a dissolute life and sow their wild oats (as they say), but I fear they rather gather in a store of wild oats.5151 Luther uses the expression ausbuben in the sense of sich austoben, viz., “to storm out one’s passions,” and then coins the word sich einbuben, viz., “to storm in one’s passions.” I hold the proverb to be true: “Most men become monks and 91priests in desperation.” That is why things are as we see them.
But in order that many sins may be prevented that are becoming too common, I would honestly advise that no boy or girl be allowed to take the vow of chastity, or to enter a religious life, before the age of thirty years. For this requires a special grace, as St. Paul says. Therefore, unless God specially urge any one to a religious life, he will do well to leave all vows and devotions alone. I say further: If a man has so little faith in God as to fear that he will be unable to maintain himself in the married state, and if this fear is the only thing that makes him become a priest, then I implore him, for his own soul’s sake, not to become a priest, but rather to become a peasant, or what he will. For if simple trust in God be necessary to ensure temporal support, tenfold trust in God is necessary to live a religious life. If you do not trust to God for your worldly food, how can you trust to Him for your spiritual food? Alas, this unbelief and want of faith destroys all things, and leads us into all misery, as we see among all conditions of men.
Much might be said concerning all this misery. Young people have no one to look after them, they are left to go on just as they like, and those in authority are of no more use to them than if they did not exist; though this should be the chief care of the Pope, of Bishops, Lords and Councils. They wish to rule over everything, everywhere, and yet they are of no use. Oh, what a rare sight, for these reasons, will a lord or ruler be in Heaven, though he might build a hundred churches to God and raise all the dead! But this may suffice for the present.
For of what concerns the temporal authority and the nobles, I have, I think, said enough in my tract on ‘Good Works.’ For their lives and governments leave room enough for improvement; but there is no comparison between spiritual and temporal abuses, as I have there shown. I dare say I have sung a lofty strain, that I have proposed many things that will be thought impossible, and attacked many points too sharply. But what was I to do? I was bound to say this: if I had the power, this is what I would do. I had rather incur the world’s anger than God’s; they cannot take from me more than my 92life. I have hitherto made many offers of peace to my adversaries. But, as I see, God has forced me through them to open my mouth wider and wider, and, because they do not keep quiet, to give them enough cause for speaking, barking, shouting and writing. Well, then, I have another song still to sing concerning them and Rome; if they wish to hear it, I will sing it to them, and sing with all my might. Do you understand, my friend Rome, what I mean?
I have frequently offered to submit my writings for inquiry and examination, but in vain; though I know, if I am in the right, I must be condemned upon earth, and justified by Christ alone in Heaven. For all the Scriptures teach us, that the affairs of Christians and Christendom must be judged by God alone; they have never yet been justified by men in this world, but the opposition has always been too strong. My greatest care and fear is, lest my cause be not condemned by men; by which I should know for certain that it does not please God. Therefore let them go freely to work, Pope, bishop, priest, monk, or doctor; they are the true people to persecute the truth, as they have always done. May God grant us all a Christian understanding, and especially to the Christian nobility of the German nation true spiritual courage, to do what is best for our unhappy Church. Amen!
At Wittenberg, in the year 1520.93
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