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§ 109. Luther’s Last Attack on the Sacramentarians. His Relation to Calvin.


We anticipate the concluding act of the sad controversy of Luther with his Protestant opponents. It is all the more painful, since Zwingli and Oecolampadius were then sleeping in the grave; but it belongs to a full knowledge of the great Reformer.

The Marburg Conference did not really reconcile the parties, or advance the question in dispute; but the conflict subsided for a season, and was thrown into the background by other events. The persistent efforts of Bucer and Hedio to bring about a reconciliation between Wittenberg and Zuerich soothed Luther, and excited in him the hope that the Swiss would give up their heresy, as he regarded it. But in this hope he was disappointed. The Swiss could not accept the "Wittenberg Concordia" of 1536, because it was essentially Lutheran in the assertion of the corporal presence and oral manducation.

A year and a half before his death, Luther broke out afresh, to the grief of Melanchthon and other friends, in a most violent attack on the Sacramentarians, the "Short Confession on the Holy Sacrament" (1544).879879    Erl. ed. XXXII. 396-425; Walch, XX. 2195 sqq. Comp. Luther’s letter to Hungarian ministers, April 21, 1544 (in De Wette, V. 644), where he announces his intention soon to add one more to his many confessions on the real presence. "Cogor post tot confessiones meas adhuc unam facere, quam faciam propediem et novissimam." The Erlangen editor says that the book was not published till 1545; but the titlepage of Hans Luft’s edition bears date "Am Ende: M. D. XLIIII." Melanchthon informed Bullinger of the appearance of the book in August, 1544; and Calvin heard of it in November, 1544.  It was occasioned by Schwenkfeld,880880    Schwenkfeld sent Luther some books with appeals to his authority (1543). Luther returned an answer by the messenger, in which he called Schwenkfeld "a nonsensical fool," and asked him to spare him his books, which were "spit out by the Devil." In the Short Confession, he calls him always Stenkefeld (Stinkfield), and ein "verdampt Lügenmand." and by the rumor that Luther had changed his view, because he had abolished the elevation and adoration of the host.881881    See above, p. 606, note. Moreover he learned that Dévay, his former student, and inmate of his house, smuggled the sacramenta-rian doctrine under Luther’s name into Hungary.882882    Dévay is the founder of the Reformed (Calvinistic) church in Hungary. See Revecz in Herzog2, III. 572 sqq. He was also displeased with the reformation program of Bucer and Melanchthon for the diocese of Cologne (1543), because it stated the doctrine of the eucharist without the specific Lutheran features, so that he feared it would give aid and comfort to the Sacramentarians.883883    "Summa," he wrote to Chancellor Brück, who sent him the program, and Amsdorf’s censure, "das Buch ist den Schwärmern nicht allein leidlich, sondern auch tröstlich, vielmehr für ihre Lehre als für unsere; ... und ist alles zu lang und gross Gewäsche, dass ich das Klappermaul, den Butzer, hier wohl spüre." De Wette, V. 709; "Corp. Reform." V. 113, 461. These provocations and vexations, in connection with sickness and old age, combined to increase his irritability, and to sour his temper. They must be taken into account for all understanding of his last document on the eucharist. It is the severest of all, and forms a parallel to his last work against the papacy, of the same year, which surpasses in violence all he ever wrote against the Romish Antichrist.884884    Comp. above, p. 251. Melanchthon called the "Short Confession" "the most atrocious book of Luther " (atrocissimum Lutheri scriptum, in quo bellum περὶ δείπνου κυριακοῦinstaurat). Letter to Bullinger, Aug. 30, 1544, in "Corp. Ref." v. 475. He agreed with the judgment of Calvin, who wrote to him, June 28, 1545 "I confess that we all owe the greatest thanks to Luther, and I should cheerfully concede to him the highest authority, if he only knew how to control himself. Good God! what jubilee we prepare for the Papists, and what sad example do we set to posterity!"

The "Short Confession" contains no argument, but the strongest possible reaffirmation of his faith in the real pres-ence, and a declaration of his total and final separation from the Sacramentarians and their doctrine, with some concluding remarks on the elevation of the sacrament. Standing on the brink of the grave, and in view of the judgment-seat, he solemnly condemns all enemies of the sacraments wherever they are.885885    "Denn ich," he says after a few contemptuous words about Schwenk-feld, "als der ich nu auf der Gruben gehe, will diess Zeugniss und diesen Ruhm mit mir für meins lieben Herrn und Heilands Jesu Christi Richtstuhl bringen, dass ich die Schwärmer und Sacramentsfeinde, Carlstadt, Zwingel, Oecolampad, Stenkefeld und ihre Jünger zu Zürch [Zürich], und wo sie sind, mit ganzem Ernst verdampt und gemieden habe, nach seinem Befehl Tit. 3:10, Einen Ketzer sollt du meiden." "Much rather," he says, "would I be torn to pieces, and burnt a hundred times, than be of one mind and will with Stenkefeld [Schwenkfeld], Zwingel, Carlstadt, Oecolampad, and all the rest of the Schwärmer, or tolerate their doctrine." He overwhelms them with terms of opprobrium, and coins new ones which cannot be translated into decent English. He calls them heretics, hypocrites, liars, blasphemers, soul-murderers, sinners unto death, bedeviled all over.886886    He ascribes to them indiscriminately "ein eingeteufelt, durchteufelt, überteufelt, lästerlich Herz und Lügenmaul" (l.c., p. 404). He ceased to pray for them, and left them to their fate. At one time he had expressed some regard for Oecolampadius,887887    He wrote in 1527: "Dem Oecolampad hat Gott viel Gaben geschenkt für [vor]vielen andern, und mir ja herzlich für den Mann leid ist." Erl. ed. XXX. 34. and even for Zwingli, and sincere grief at his tragic death.888888    In an answer to Bullinger, Zwingli’s successor, dated May 14, 1538 (De Wette, V. 112): "Libere enim dicam: Zwinglium, postquam Marpurgi mihi visus et auditus est, virum optimum esse judicavi, sicut et Oecolampadium, ita ut eorum casis me paene exanimaverit ... non quod invideam honori Zwinglii, de cuius morte tantum dolorem concepi," etc. But in this last book he repeatedly refers to his death as a terrible judgment of God, and doubts whether he was saved.889889    He had expressed the same doubt twelve years before, but in a milder tone, in a letter to Duke Albrecht of Prussia, April, 1532 (De Wette, IV. 352 sq.): "Sind sie" [Zwingli and his followers who fell on the battle-field at Cappel] "selig worden, wie dasselb Gott nicht unmöglich ist, einen Menschen in seinem letzten Ende, in einem Augenblick, zu bekehren, das gönnen und wünschen wir ihnen von Grund unsers Herzens: aber Märtyrer zu machen, da gehört mehr zu, denn schlecht selig werden." In the Short Confession (p. 411) he seems to count Zwingli and Oecolampadius among "the Devil’s martyrs." He was horrified at Zwingli’s belief in the salvation of the pious heathen, which he learned from his last exposition of the Christian faith, addressed to the king of France. "If such godless heathen," he says, "as Socrates, Aristides, yea, even the horrible Numa who introduced all kinds of idolatry in Rome890890    "Solche gottlose Heiden, Socrates, Aristides, ja der gräuliche Numa, der zu Rom alle Abgötterei erst gestiftet." (as St. Augustin writes), were saved, there is no need of God, Christ, gospel, Scriptures, baptism, sacrament, or Christian faith." He thinks that Zwingli either played the hypocrite when he professed so many Christian articles at Marburg, or fell away, and has become worse than a heathen, and ten times worse than he was as a papist.

This attitude Luther retained to the end. It is difficult to say whom he hated most, the papists or the Sacramentarians. On the subject of the real presence he was much farther removed from the latter. He remarks once that he would rather drink blood alone with the papists than wine alone with the Zwinglians. A few days before his death, he wrote to his friend, Pastor Probst in Bremen: "Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the Sacramentarians, nor standeth in the way of the Zwinglians, nor sitteth in the seat of the Zurichers."891891    De Wette, V. 778. The German in Walch, XVII. 2633. It should be remembered that in this letter, dated Jan. 17, 1546, he describes himself as "senex, decrepitus, piger, fessus, frigidus, monoculus," and "infelicissimus omnium hominum" Thus he turned the blessing of the first Psalm into a curse, in accordance with his growing habit of cursing the pope and the devil when praying to God. He repeatedly speaks of this habit, especially in reciting the Lord’s Prayer, and justifies it as a part of his piety.892892    In a book of March, 1531, against an anonymous layman of Dresden, who charged him with stirring up the Germans to open rebellion against the emperor, he defends this pious cursing as the necessary negative supplement to the positive petitions of the Lord’s Prayer."Ich kann nicht beten," he says, "ich muss dabei fluchen. Soll ich sagen: ’geheiligt werde dein Name,’ muss ich. dabei sagen: ’Verflucht, verdammt, geschändet müsse werden der Papisten Namen, und aller, die deinen Namen lästern.’ Soll ich sagen: ’Dein Reich komme,’ so muss ich dabei sagen:’ Verflucht, verdammt, verstört müsse werden das Papstthum sammt allen Reichen auf Erden, die deinem Reiche zuwider sind. Soll ich sagen: ’Dein Wille geschehe,’ so muss ich dabei sagen: ’Verflucht, verdammt, geschändet und zu nichte müssen werden alle Gedanken und Anschläge der Papisten und aller die wider deinen Willen und Rath streben.’ Wahrlich, so bete ich alle Tage mündlich, und mit dem Herzen ohne Unterlass, und mit mir alle, die an Christum gläuben, und fühle auch wohl, dass es erhört wird. Denn man mussGottes Wunder sehen, wie er diesen schrecklichen Reichstag [the Diet of Augsburg, 1530],und das unmässliche Dräuen und Wüthen der Papisten zu nichte macht, und auch ferner sie gründlich zu nichte machen wird. Dennoch behalte ich ein gut, freundlich, friedlich und christlich Herz gegen jedermann; das wissen auch meine grössten Feinde." (Wider den Meuchler zu Dresden, Walsh, XVI. 2085; Erl. ed. XXV. 108.) Seven years later (1538) he made a similar statement in a tract on the Pope’s program of a Reformation: "Man soll nicht fluchen (das ist wahr); aber beten muss man, dass Gottes Name geheiliget und geehrt werde, des Papsts Name geschädet und verflucht werde, sammt seinem Gott, dem Teufel, dass Gottes Reich komme, des Antichrists Reich zu Grunde gehe. Solchen paternosterlichen Fluch mag man wohl beten, und soll ihn jeder Christ beten, weil die letzten Erzbösewichte am Ende der Welt, Papst, Cardinal, und Bischof so schändlich, böslich, muthwillig unsern lieben Herrn und Gott lästern und dazu spotten." Erl. ed. XXV. 151. When once asked whether we may curse in praying, Luther replied: "Yes; for when I pray, ’Hallowed be thy name,’ I curse Erasmus and all heretics who blaspheme God."Tischreden, vol. LIX. 22. In Marburg, at the dinner-table, he added after that petition, audibly, with a sharp voice, and closing his hands more tightly, "Und dass unser Name für tausend Teufel verdammt werde." Baum, Capito u. Butzer, p. 461.

It is befitting that with this last word against the Sacramentarians should coincide in time and spirit his last and most violent attack upon the divine gift of reason, which he had himself so often and so effectually used as his best weapon, next to the Word of God. On Jan. 17, 1546, he ascended the pulpit of Wittenberg for the last time, and denounced reason as the damned whore of the Devil." The fanatics and Sacramentarians boast of it when they ask: "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" Hear ye the Son of God who says: "This is my body," and crush the serpent beneath your feet.893893    See above, § 9, p. 31 sq. Köstlin, Luthers Theologie, II. 226, 290.

Six days later Luther left the city of his public labors for the city of his birth, and died in peace at Eisleben, Feb. 18. 1546, holding fast to his faith, and commending his soul to his God and Redeemer.

In view of these last utterances we must, reluctantly, refuse credit to the story that Luther before his death remarked to Melanchthon: "Dear Philip, I confess that the matter of the Lord’s Supper has been overdone;"894894    "Der Sache vom Abendmahl ist viel zu viel gethan." and that, on being asked to correct the evil, and to restore peace to the church, he replied: "I often thought of it; but then people might lose confidence in my whole doctrine. I leave the matter in the hands of the Lord. Do what you can after my death."895895    Hardenberg, a Reformed minister at Bremen ((I. 1574), reported such a conversation as coming from the lips of his friend Melanchthon; but Melanchthon nowhere alludes to it. Stähelin (John Calvin, I. 228 sq.) accepts, Köstlin (M. L., II. 627) rejects the report, as resting on some misunderstanding. So also C. Bertheau in the article "Hardenberg" in Herzog2, V. 596 sq. Comp. Diestelmann, Die letzte Unterredung Luthers mit Melanchthon über den Abendmahlsstreit, Göttingen, l874; Köstlin’s review of Diestelmann, in the "Studien und Kritiken," 1876, p. 385 sqq.; and Walte in the "Jahrb. für prot. Theol.," 1883. It is a pity that the story cannot be sufficiently authenticated, for it certainly expresses what ought to have been Luther’s last confession on the subject.

But it is gratifying to know that Luther never said one unkind word of Calvin, who was twenty-five years younger. He never saw him, but read some of his books, and heard of him through Melanchthon. In a letter to Bucer, dated Oct. 14, 1539, he sent his respectful salutations to John Sturm and John Calvin, who lived at that time in Strassburg, and added that he had read their books with singular delight. This includes his masterly answer to the letter of Bishop Sadolet (1539).896896    De Wette, V. 211: "Bene vale et salutabis Dr. Joannem Sturmium et Johannem Calvinum reverenter, quorum libellos cum singulari voluptate legi. Sadoleto optarem, ut crederet Deum esse creatorem hominum etiam extra Italiam." From the last sentence it appears that he read Calvin’s answer to Bishop Sadolet. He is reported to have remarked to Cruciger: "This answer has hand and foot, and I rejoice that God raises such men who will give popery the last blow, and finish the war against Antichrist which I began." Calvin alludes to these salutations in his Secunda Defensio adv. Westphalum (Opera, ed. Reuss, IX. 92). Melanchthon sent salutations from Luther and Bugenhagen to Calvin, and informed him that he was in high favor with Luther,"897897    "Calvinus magnam gratiam iniit." notwithstanding the difference of views on the real presence, and that Luther hoped for better opinions, but was willing to bear something from such a good man.898898    This letter of Melanchthon is lost, but Calvin alludes to it in a letter to Farel, 1539. Opera, X. 432. The words of Luther are: "Spero ipsum [Calvinum] olim de nobis melius sensurum, sed aequum est a bono ingenio nos aliquid ferre." Calvin had expressed his views on the Lord’s Supper in the first edition of his Institutes, which appeared in 1536,899899    Ch. IV. p. 236 sqq. (De Coena Domini), Opera, I. 118 sqq. incidentally also in his answer to Sadolet, which Luther read "with delight,"900900    Opera Calc., ed. Reuss vol. V. 385-416. On fol. 400 Calvin rejects the "localis corporis Christ praesentia" in the eucharist, but asserts "veram carnis et sanguinis communicationem quae fidelibus in coena exhibetur." and more fully in a special treatise, De Coena Domini, which was published in French at Strassburg, 1541, and then in Latin, 1545.901901    Opera, V. 429-460. Luther must have known these views. He is reported to have seen a copy of Calvin’s tract on the eucharist in a bookstore at Wittenberg, and, after reading it, made the remark: "The author is certainly a learned and pious man: if Zwingli and Oecolampadius had from the start declared themselves in this way, there would probably not have arisen such a controversy."902902    Pezel, Ausführliche Lehre vom Sacramentstreit, Bremen, 1600, p. 137 sqq. See Gieseler, vol. IV. 414 sq. (New York ed. of the E. transl.); Stähelin, Joh. Calvin, I. 227 (with Pezel’s report in full); Müller, Dogmat. Abhandlungen, p. 406; Köstlin, M. L., II. 615 and 687. It is remarkable in this connection that Luther spoke in high terms of the Swabian Syngramma, which was directed against the Swiss theory, but leaves no room for an oral manducation, and comes nearest to the Calvinistic view. Comp. Köstlin, Luthers Theologie, II. 147.

Calvin returned Luther’s greetings through Melanchthon, and sent him two pamphlets with a letter, dated Jan. 21, 1545, addressing him as "my much respected father," and requesting him to solve the scruples of some converted French refugees. he expresses the wish that "he might enjoy for a few hours the happiness of his society," though this was impossible on earth.

Melanchthon, fearing a renewal of the eucharistic controversy, had not the courage to deliver this letter—the only one of Calvin to Luther—"because," he says, "Doctor Martin is suspicious, and dislikes to answer such questions as were proposed to him."903903    Opera, ed. Reuss, XII. 6 sq., 61 sq. Letters, ed. Constable, I. 416 sq.

Calvin regretted "the vehemence of Luther’s natural temperament, which was so apt to boil over in every direction," and to "flash his lightning sometimes also upon the servants of the Lord;" but he always put him above Zwingli, and exhorted the Zurichers to moderation. When he heard of the last attack of Luther, he wrote a noble letter to Bullinger, Nov. 25, 1544, in which he says:904904    Letters, I. 409 sq., Opera, XI. 774.

"I hear that Luther has at length broken forth in fierce invective, not so much against you as against the whole of us. On the present occasion, I dare scarce venture to ask you to keep silence, because it is neither just that innocent persons should thus be harassed, nor that they should be denied the opportunity of clearing themselves; neither, on the other hand, is it easy to determine whether it would be prudent for them to do so. But of this I do earnestly desire to put you in mind, in the first place, that you would consider how eminent a man Luther is, and his excellent endow-ments, with what strength of mind and resolute constancy, with how great skill, with what efficiency and power of doctrinal statement, he hath hither-to devoted his whole energy to overthrow the reign of Antichrist, and at the same time to diffuse far and near the doctrine of salvation. Often have I been wont to declare, that even although he were to call me a devil, I should still not the less esteem and acknowledge him as an illustrious servant of God.905905    "Saepe dicere solitus sum: etiam si me diabolum vocaret, me tamen hoc illi honoris habiturum, ut insignem Dei servum agnoscam: qui tamen ut pollet eximiis virtutibus, ita magnis vitiis laboret." ... This, therefore, I would beseech you to consider first of all, along with your colleagues, that you have to do with a most distin-guished servant of Christ, to whom we are all of us largely indebted. That, besides, you will do yourselves no good by quarreling, except that you may afford some sport to the wicked, so that they may triumph not so much over us as over the gospel. If they see us rending each other asunder, they then give full credit to what we say, but when with one consent and with one voice we preach Christ, they avail themselves unwarrantably of our inherent weakness to cast reproach upon our faith. I wish, therefore, that you would consider and reflect on these things, rather than on what Luther has deserved by his violence; lest that may happen to you which Paul threatens, that by biting and devouring one another, ye be consumed one of another. Even should he have provoked us, we ought rather to decline the contest than to increase the wound by the general shipwreck of the church."

This is the wisest Christian answer from Geneva to the thunderbolts of Wittenberg.



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