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_Letter to John Staupitz Accompanying

the "Resolutions" to the XCV Theses_

by Dr. Martin Luther, 1518

Published in:

_Works of Martin Luther_

Adolph Spaeth, L.D. Reed, Henry Eyster Jacobs, et Al., Trans. & Eds.

(Philadelphia: A. J. Holman Company, 1915),

Volume 1, pp. 39-43.




To his Reverend and Dear Father


Professor of Sacred Theology,

Vicar of the Augustinian Order,

Brother Martin Luther,

his pupil,

sendeth greeting.

I remember, dear Father, that once, among those pleasant and

wholesome talks of thine, with which the Lord Jesus ofttimes

gives me wondrous consolation, the word poenitential was

mentioned. We were moved with pity for many consciences, and

for those tormentors who teach, with rules innumerable and

unbearable, what they call a modus confitendi. Then we heard

thee say as with a voice from heaven, that there is no true

penitence which does not begin with love of righteousness and

of God, and that this love, which others think to be the end

and the completion of penitence, is rather its beginning.

This word of thine stuck in me like a sharp arrow of the

mighty, and from that time forth I began to compare it with

the texts of Scripture which teach penitence. Lo, there began

a joyous game! The words frollicked with me everywhere! They

laughed and gamboled around this saying. Before that there was

scarcely a word in all the Scriptures more bitter to me than

"penitence," though I was busy making pretences to God and

trying to produce a forced, feigned love; but now there is no

word which has for me a sweeter or more pleasing sound than

"penitence." For God's commands are sweet, when we find that

they are to be read not in books alone, but in the wounds of

our sweet Saviour.

After this it came about that, by the grace of the learned men

who dutifully teach us Greek and Hebrew, I learned that this

word is in Greek metanoia and is derived from meta and noun,

i.e., post and mentem, so that poenitentia or metanoia is a

"coming to one's senses," and is a knowledge of one's own

evil, gained after punishment has been accepted and error

acknowledged; and this cannot possibly happen without a change

in our heart and our love. All this answers so aptly to the

theology of Paul, that nothing, at least in my judgment, can

so aptly illustrate St. Paul.

Then I went on and saw that metanoia can be derived, though

not without violence, not only from post and mentem, but also

from trans and mentem, so that metanoia signifies a changing

of the mind and heart, because it seemed to indicate not only

a change of the heart, but also a manner of changing it, i.e.,

the grace of God. For that "passing over of the mind," which

is true repentance, is of very frequent mention in the

Scriptures. Christ has displayed the true significance of that

old word "Passover"; and long before the Passover, Abraham was

a type of it, when he was called a "pilgrim,"] i.e., a

"Hebrew," that is to say, one who "passed over" into

Mesopotamia, as the Doctor of Bourgos learnedly explains. With

this accords, too, the title of the Psalm in which Jeduthun,

i.e., "the pilgrim," is introduced as the singer.

Depending on these things, I ventured to think those men false

teachers who ascribed so much to works of penitence that they

left us scarcely anything of penitence itself except trivial

satisfactions and laborious confession, because, forsooth,

they had derived their idea from the Latin words poenitentiam

agere, which indicate an action, rather than a change of

heart, and are in no way an equivalent for the Greek metanoia.

While this thought was boiling in my mind, suddenly new

trumpets of indulgences and bugles of remissions began to peal

and to bray all about us; but they were not intended to arouse

us to keen eagerness for battle. In a word, the doctrine of

true penitence was passed by, and they presumed to praise not

even that poorest part of penitence which is called

"satisfaction," but the remission of that poorest part of

penitence; and they praised it so highly that such praise was

never heard before. Then, too, they taught impious and false

and heretical doctrines with such authority (I wished to say

"with such assurance") that he who even muttered anything to

the contrary under his breath, would straightway be consigned

to the fames as a heretic, and condemned to eternal


Unable to meet their rage half-way, I determined to enter a

modest dissent, and to call their teaching into question,

relying on the opinion of all the doctors and of the whole

Church, that to render satisfaction is better than to secure

the remission of satisfaction, i.e., to buy indulgences. Nor

is there anybody who ever taught otherwise. Therefore, I

published my Disputation; in other words, I brought upon my

head all the curses, high, middle and low, which these lovers

of money (I should say "of souls") are able to send or to have

sent upon me. For these most courteous men, armed, as they

are, with very dense acumen, since they cannot deny what I

have said, now pretend that in my Disputation I have spoken

against the power of the Supreme Pontiff.

That is the reason, Reverend Father, why I now regretfully

come out in public. For I have ever been a lover of my corner,

and prefer to look upon the beauteous passing show of the

great minds of our age, rather than to be looked upon and

laughed at. But I see that the bean must appear among the

cabbages, and the black must be put with the white, for the

sake of seemliness and loveliness.

I ask, therefore, that thou wilt take this foolish work of

mine and forward it, if possible, to the most Excellent

Pontiff, Leo X, where it may plead my cause against the

designs of those who hate me. Not that I wish thee to share my

danger! Nay, I wish this to be done at my peril only. Christ

will see whether what I have said is His or my own; and

without His permission there is not a word in the Supreme

Pontiff's tongue, nor is the heart of the king in his own

hand. He is the Judge whose verdict I await from the Roman


As for those threatening friends of mine, I have no answer for

them but that word of Reuchlin's -- "He who is poor fears

nothing; he has nothing to lose." Fortune I neither have nor

desire; if I have had reputation and honor, he who destroys

them is always at work; there remains only one poor body, weak

and wearied with constant hardships, and if by force or wile

they do away with that (as a service to God), they will but

make me poorer by perhaps an hour or two of life. Enough for

me is the most sweet Saviour and Redeemer, my Lord Jesus

Christ, to Whom I shall always sing my song; if any one is

unwilling to sing with me, what is that to me? Let him howl,

if he likes, by himself.

The Lord Jesus keep thee eternally, my gracious Father!

Wittenberg, Day of the Holy Trinity, MDXVIII.