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An Open Letter on Translating

By Dr. Martin Luther, 1483-1546

Translated from:

"Sendbrief von Dolmetschen"

in _Dr. Martin Luthers Werke_,

(Weimar: Hermann Boehlaus Nachfolger, 1909),

Band 30, Teil II, pp. 632-646

by Gary Mann, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Religion/Theology

Augustana College

Rock Island, Illinois

Preface

Wenceslas Link to all believers in Christ:

The wise Solomon says in Proverbs 11: "The people who withhold

grain curse him. But there is a blessing on those who sell it."

This verse speaks truly concerning all that can serve the common

good or the well-being of Christendom. This is the reason the

master in the gospel reprimands the unfaithful servant like a lazy

scoundrel for having hidden and buried his money in the ground.

So that this curse of the Lord and the entire Church might be

avoided, I must publish this letter which came into my possession

through a good friend. I could not withhold it, as there has been

much discussion about the translating of the Old and New

Testaments. It has been charged by the despisers of truth that

the text has been modified and even falsified in many places,

which has shocked and startled many simple Christians, even among

the educated who do not know any Hebrew or Greek. It is devoutly

hoped that with this publication the slander of the godless will

be stopped and the scruples of the devout removed, at least in

part. It may even give rise to more writing on such matters and

questions such as these. So I ask all friends of the Truth to

seriously take this work to heart and faithfully pray to God for a

proper understanding of the divine Scriptures towards the

improvement and increase of our common Christendom. Amen.

Nuremberg Sept. 15, 1530.

To the Honorable and Worthy N., my favorite lord and friend.

Grace and peace in Christ, honorable, worthy and dear Lord and

friend. I received your writing with the two questions or queries

requesting my response. In the first place, you ask why I, in the

3rd chapter of Romans, translated the words of St. Paul:

"Arbitramur hominem iustificari ex fide absque operibus" as "We

hold that the human will be justified without the works of the law

but only by faith." You also tell me that the Papists are causing

a great fuss because St. Paul's text does not contain the word

sola (alone), and that my changing of the words of God is not to

be tolerated. Secondly, you ask if the departed saints intercede

for us. Regarding the first question, you can give the papists

this answer from me - if you so desire.

On the first hand, if I, Dr. Luther, had thought that all the

Papists together were capable of translating even one passage of

Scripture correctly and well, I would have gathered up enough

humility to ask for their aid and assistance in translating the

New Testament into German. However, I spared them and myself the

trouble, as I knew and still see with my own eyes that not one of

them knows how to speak or translate German. It is obvious,

however, that they are learning to speak and write German from my

translations. Thus, they are stealing my language from me - a

language they had little knowledge of before this. However, they

do not thank me for this but instead use it against me. Yet I

readily grant them this as it tickles me to know that I have

taught my ungrateful students, even my enemies, to speak.

Secondly, you might say that I have conscientiously translated the

New Testament into German to the best of my ability, and that I

have not forced anyone to read it. Rather I have left it open,

only doing the translation as a service to those who could not do

it as well. No one is forbidden to do it better. If someone does

not wish to read it, he can let it lie, for I do not ask anyone to

read it or praise anyone who does! It is my Testament and my

translation - and it shall remain mine. If I have made errors

within it (although I am not aware of any and would most certainly

be unwilling to intentionally mistranslate a single letter) I will

not allow the papists to judge for their ears continue to be too

long and their hee-haws too weak for them to be critical of my

translating. I know quite well how much skill, hard work,

understanding and intelligence is needed for a good translation.

They know it less than even the miller's donkey for they have

never tried it.

It is said, "The one who builds along the pathway has many

masters." It is like this with me. Those who have not ever been

able to speak correctly (to say nothing of translating) have all

at once become my masters and I their pupil. If I were to have

asked them how to translate the first two words of Matthew "Liber

Generationis" into German, not one of them would have been able to

say "Quack!" And they judge all my works! Fine fellows! It was

also like this for St. Jerome when he translated the Bible.

Everyone was his master. He alone was entirely incompetent as

people, who were not good enough to clean his boots, judged his

works. This is why it takes a great deal of patience to do good

things in public for the world believes itself to be the Master of

Knowledge, always putting the bit under the horse's tail, and not

judging itself for that is the world's nature. It can do nothing

else.

I would gladly see a papist come forward and translate into German

an epistle of St. Paul's or one of the prophets and, in doing so,

not make use of Luther's German or translation. Then one might

see a fine, beautiful and noteworthy translation into German.

We have seen that bungler from Dresden play master to my New

Testament. (I will not mention his name in my books as he has his

judge and is already well- known). He does admit that my German

is good and sweet and that he could not improve it. Yet, anxious

to dishonor it, he took my New Testament word for word as it was

written, and removed my prefaces and glosses, replacing them with

his own. Then he published my New Testament under his name! Dear

Children, how it pained me when his prince in a detestable preface

condemned my work and forbid all from reading Luther's New

Testament, while at the same time commending the Bungler's New

Testament to be read - even though it was the very same one Luther

had written!

So no one thinks I am lying, put Luther's and the Bungler's New

Testaments side by side and compare them. You will see who did

the translation for both. He has patched it in places and

reordered it (and although it does not all please me) I can still

leave it be for it does me no particular harm as far as the

document is concerned. That is why I never intended to write in

opposition to it. But I did have a laugh at the great wisdom that

so terribly slandered, condemned and forbade my New Testament,

when it was published under my name, but required its reading when

published under an other's name! What type of virtue is this that

slanders and heaps shame on someone else's work, and then steals

it, and publishes it under one's own name, thereby seeking glory

and esteem through the slandered work of someone else! I leave

that for his judge to say. I am glad and satisfied that my work

(as St. Paul also boasts ) is furthered by my enemies, and that

Luther's work, without Luther's name but that of his enemy, is to

be read. What better vengeance?!

Returning to the issue at hand, if your Papist wishes to make a

great fuss about the word "alone" (sola), say this to him: "Dr.

Martin Luther will have it so and he says that a papist and an ass

are the same thing." Sic volo, sic iubeo, sit pro ratione

voluntas. (I will it, I command it; my will is reason enough) For

we are not going to become students and followers of the papists.

Rather we will become their judge and master. We, too, are going

to be proud and brag with these blockheads; and just as St. Paul

brags against his madly raving saints, I will brag over these

asses of mine! They are doctors? Me too. They are scholars? I

am as well. They are philosophers? And I. They are

dialecticians? I am too. They are lecturers? So am I. They

write books? So do I.

I will go even further with my bragging: I can exegete the psalms

and the prophets, and they cannot. I can translate, and they

cannot. I can read Holy Scriptures, and they cannot. I can pray,

they cannot. Coming down to their level, I can do their

dialectics and philosophy better than all of them put together.

Plus I know that not one of them understands Aristotle. If, in

fact, any one of them can correctly understand one part or chapter

of Aristotle, I will eat my hat! No, I am not overdoing it for I

have been educated in and have practiced their science since my

childhood. I recognize how broad and deep it is. They, too, know

that everything they can do, I can do. Yet they handle me like a

stranger in their discipline, these incurable fellows, as if I had

just arrived this morning and had never seen or heard what they

know and teach. How they do so brilliantly parade around with

their science, teaching me what I grew beyond twenty years ago!

To all their shouting and screaming I join the harlot in singing:

"I have known for seven years that horseshoe nails are iron."

So this can be the answer to your first question. Please do not

give these asses any other answer to their useless braying about

that word "sola" than simply "Luther will have it so, and he says

that he is a doctor above all the papal doctors." Let it remain

at that. I will, from now on, hold them in contempt, and have

already held them in contempt, as long as they are the kind of

people that they are - asses, I should say. And there are brazen

idiots among them who have never learned their own art of

sophistry - like Dr. Schmidt and Snot-Nose, and such like them.

They set themselves against me in this matter, which not only

transcends sophistry, but as St. Paul writes, all the wisdom and

understanding in the world as well. An ass truly does not have to

sing much as he is already known for his ears.

For you and our people, however, I shall show why I used the word

"sola" - even though in Romans 3 it wasn't "sola" I used but

"solum" or "tantum". That is how closely those asses have looked

at my text! However, I have used "sola fides" in other places,

and I want to use both "solum" and "sola". I have continually

tried translating in a pure and accurate German. It has happened

that I have sometimes searched and inquired about a single word

for three or four weeks. Sometimes I have not found it even then.

I have worked Meister Philip and Aurogallus so hard in translating

Job, sometimes barely translating 3 lines after four days. Now

that it has been translated into German and completed, all can

read and criticize it. One can now read three or four pages

without stumbling one time - without realizing just what rocks and

hindrances had once been where now one travels as as if over a

smoothly-cut plank. We had to sweat and toil there before we

removed those rocks and hindrances, so one could go along nicely.

The plowing goes nicely in a clear field. But nobody wants the

task of digging out the rocks and hindrances. There is no such

thing as earning the world's thanks. Even God cannot each thanks,

not with the sun, nor with heaven and earth, or even the death of

his Son. It just is and remains as it is, in the devil's name, as

it will not be anything else.

I also know that in Rom. 3, the word "solum" is not present in

either Greek or Latin text - the papists did not have to teach me

that - it is fact! The letters s-o-l-a are not there. And these

knotheads stare at them like cows at a new gate, while at the same

time they do not recognize that it conveys the sense of the text -

if the translation is to be clear and accurate, it belongs there.

I wanted to speak German since it was German I had spoken in

translation - not Latin or Greek. But it is the nature of our

language that in speaking about two things, one which is affirmed,

the other denied, we use the word "solum" only along with the word

"not" (nicht) or "no" (kein). For example, we say "the farmer

brings only (allein) grain and no money"; or "No, I really have no

money, but only (allein) grain"; I have only eaten and not yet

drunk"; "Did you write it only and not read it over?" There are a

vast number of such everyday cases.

In all these phrases, this is a German usage, even though it is

not the Latin or Greek usage. It is the nature of the German

tongue to add "allein" in order that "nicht" or "kein" may be

clearer and more complete. To be sure, I can also say "The farmer

brings grain and no (kein) money, but the words "kein money" do

not sound as full and clear as if I were to say, "the farmer

brings allein grain and kein money." Here the word "allein" helps

the word "kein" so much that it becomes a clear and complete

German expression.

We do not have to ask about the literal Latin or how we are to

speak German - as these asses do. Rather we must ask the mother

in the home, the children on the street, the common person in the

market about this. We must be guided by their tongue, the manner

of their speech, and do our translating accordingly. Then they

will understand it and recognize that we are speaking German to

them.

For instance, Christ says: Ex abundatia cordis os loquitur. If I

am to follow these asses, they will lay the original before me

literally and translate it as: "Out of the abundance of the heart

the mouth speaks." Is that speaking with a German tongue? What

German could understand something like that? What is this

"abundance of the heart?" No German can say that; unless, of

course, he was trying to say that someone was altogether too

magnanimous, or too courageous, though even that would not yet be

correct, as "abundance of the heart" is not German, not any more

than "abundance of the house, "abundance of the stove" or

"abundance of the bench" is German. But the mother in the home

and the common man say this: "What fills the heart overflows the

mouth." That is speaking with the proper German tongue of the

kind I have tried for, although unfortunately not always

successfully. The literal Latin is a great barrier to speaking

proper German.

So, as the traitor Judas says in Matthew 26: "Ut quid perditio

haec?" and in Mark 14: "Ut quid perditio iste unguenti facta est?"

Subsequently, for these literalist asses I would have to translate

it: "Why has this loss of salve occurred?" But what kind of

German is this? What German says "loss of salve occurred"? And

if he does understand it at all, he would think that the salve is

lost and must be looked for and found again; even though that is

still obscure and uncertain. Now if that is good German why do

they not come out and make us a fine, new German testament and let

Luther's testament be? I think that would really bring out their

talents. But a German would say "Ut quid, etc.." as "Why this

waste?" or "Why this extravagance?" Even "it is a shame about the

ointment" - these are good German, in which one can understand

that Magdalene had wasted the salve she poured out and had done

wrong. That was what Judas meant as he thought he could have used

it better.

Now when the angel greets Mary, he says: "Greetings to you, Mary,

full of grace, the Lord is with you." well up to this point, this

has simply been translated from the simple Latin, but tell me is

that good German? Since when does a German speak like that - being

"full of grace"? One would have to think about a keg "full of"

beer or a purse "full of" money. So I translated it: "You

gracious one". This way a German can at last think about what the

angel meant by his greeting. Yet the papists rant about me

corrupting the angelic greeting - and I still have not used the

most satisfactory German translation. What if I had used the most

satisfactory German and translated the salutation: "God says

hello, Mary dear" (for that is what the angel was intending to say

and what he would have said had he even been German!). If I had,

I believe that they would have hanged themselves out of their

great devotion to dear Mary and because I have destroyed the

greeting.

Yet why should I be concerned about their ranting and raving? I

will not stop them from translating as they want. But I too shall

translate as I want and not to please them, and whoever does not

like it can just ignore it and keep his criticism to himself, for

I will neither look at nor listen to it. They do not have to

answer for or bear responsibility for my translation. Listen up,

I shall say "gracious Mary" and "dear Mary", and they can say

"Mary full of grace". Anyone who knows German also knows what an

expressive word "dear"(liebe) is: dear Mary, dear God, the dear

emperor, the dear prince, the dear man, the dear child. I do not

know if one can say this word "liebe" in Latin or in other

languages with so much depth of emotion that it pierces the heart

and echoes throughout as it does in our tongue.

I think that St. Luke, as a master of the Hebrew and Greek

tongues, wanted to clarify and articulate the Greek word

"kecharitomene" that the angel used. And I think that the angel

Gabriel spoke with Mary just as he spoke with Daniel, when he

called him "Chamudoth" and "Ish chamudoth, vir desiriorum", that

is "Dear Daniel." That is the way Gabriel speaks, as we can see

in Daniel. Now if I were to literally translate the words of the

angel, and use the skills of these asses, I would have to

translate it as "Daniel, you man of desires" or "Daniel, you man

of lust". Oh, that would be beautiful German! A German would, of

course, recognize "Man", "Lueste" and "begirunge" as being German

words, although not altogether pure as "lust" and "begir" would be

better. But when those words are put together you get "you man of

desires" and no German is going to understand that. He might even

think that Daniel is full of lustful desires. Now wouldn't that

be a fine translation! So I have to let the literal words go and

try to discover how the German says what the Hebrew "ish

chamudoth" expresses. I discover that the German says this, "You

dear Daniel", "you dear Mary", or "you gracious maiden", "you

lovely maiden", "you gentle girl" and so on. A translator must

have a large vocabulary so he can have more words for when a

particular one just does not fit in the context.

Why should I talk about translating so much? I would need an

entire year were I to point out the reasons and concerns behind my

words. I have learned what an art and job translating is by

experience, so I will not tolerate some papal ass or mule as my

critic, or judge. They have not tried the task. If anyone does

not like my translations, they can ignore it; and may the devil

repay the one who dislikes or criticizes my translations without

my knowledge or permission. Should it be criticized, I will do it

myself. If I do not do it, then they can leave my translations in

peace. They can each do a translation that suits them - what do I

care?

To this I can, with good conscience, give witness - that I gave my

utmost effort and care and I had no ulterior motives. I have not

taken or wanted even a small coin in return. Neither have I made

any by it. God knows that I have not even sought honor by it, but

I have done it as a service to the blessed Christians and to the

honor of the One who sits above who blesses me every hour of my

life that had I translated a thousand times more diligently, I

should not have deserved to live or have a sound eye for even a

single hour. All I am and have to offer is from his mercy and

grace - indeed of his precious blood and bitter sweat. Therefore,

God willing, all of it will also serve to his honor, joyfully and

sincerely. I may be insulted by the scribblers and papists but

true Christians, along with Christ, their Lord, bless me.

Further, I am more than amply rewarded if just one Christian

acknowledge me as a workman with integrity. I do not care about

the papists, as they are not good enough to acknowledge my work

and, if they were to bless me, it would break my heart. I may be

insulted by their highest praise and honor, but I will still be a

doctor, even a distinguished one. I am certain that they shall

never take from me until the final day.

Yet I have not just gone ahead, ignoring the exact wording in the

original. Instead, with great care, I have, along with my

helpers, gone ahead and have kept literally to the original,

without the slightest deviation, wherever it appeared that a

passage was crucial. For instance, in John 6 Christ says: "Him

has God the Father set his seal upon (versiegelt)." It would be

more clear in German to say "Him has God the Father signified

(gezeiehent)" or even "God the Father means him." But rather than

doing violence to the original, I have done violence to the German

tongue. Ah, translating is not every one's skill as some mad

saints think. A right, devout, honest, sincere, God-fearing

Christian, trained, educated, and experienced heart is required.

So I hold that no false Christian or divisive spirit can be a good

translator. That is obvious given the translation of the Prophets

at Worms which although carefully done and approximating my own

German quite closely, does not show much reverence for Christ due

to the Jews who shared in the translation. Aside from that it

shows plenty of skill and craftsmanship there.

So much for translating and the nature of language. However, I was

not depending upon or following the nature of language when I

inserted the word "solum" (alone) in Rom. 3 as the text itself,

and St. Paul's meaning, urgently necessitated and demanded it. He

is dealing with the main point of Christian doctrine in this

passage - namely that we are justified by faith in Christ without

any works of the Law. In fact, he rejects all works so completely

as to say that the works of the Law, though it is God's law and

word, do not aid us in justification. Using Abraham as an

example, he argues that Abraham was so justified without works

that even the highest work, which had been commanded by God, over

and above all others, namely circumcision, did not aid him in

justification. Instead, Abraham was justified without

circumcision and without any works, but by faith, as he says in

Chapter 4: "If Abraham is justified by works, he may boast, but

not before God." However, when all works are so completely

rejected - which must mean faith alone justifies - whoever would

speak plainly and clearly about this rejection of works would have

to say "Faith alone justifies and not works." The matter itself

and the nature of language necessitates it.

"Yet", they say, "it has such an offensive tone that people infer

from it that need not do any good works." Dear, what are we to

say? IS it not more offensive for St. Paul himself to not use the

term "faith alone" but but spell it even more clearly, putting the

finishing touches on it by saying "Without the works of the Law?"

Gal. 1 [2.16] says that "not by works of the law' (as well as in

many other places) for the phrase "without the works of the law"

is so sever offensive, and scandalous that no amount of revision

can help it. How much more might people learn from "that they

need not do any good works", when all they hear is about the

preaching about the works themselves, sated in such a clear

strong way: "No works", "without works", "not by works"! If it is

not offensive to preach "without works", "not by works"! If it is

not offensive to preach "without works", "not by works"!, "no

works", why is it offensive to preach "by faith alone"?

Still more offensive is that St. Paul does not reject just

ordinary works, but works of the law! It follows that one could

take offense at that all the more and say that the law is

condemned and cursed before God and one ought only do what is

contrary to the law as it is said in Rom. 3: "Why not do evil so

that there might be more good?" which is what that one divisive

spirit of our time was doing. Should one reject St. Paul's word

because of such `offense' or refrain from speaking freely about

faith? Gracious, St. Paul and I want to offend like this for we

preach so strongly against works, insisting on faith alone for no

other reason that to offend people that they might stumble and

fall and learn that they are not saved by good works but only by

Christ's death and resurrection. Knowing that they cannot be

saved by their good works of the law, how much more will they

realize that they shall not be saved by bad works, or without the

law! Therefore, it does not follow that because good works do not

help, bad works will; just as it does not follow that because the

sun cannot help a blind person see, the night and darkness must

help him see.

It astounds me that one can be offended by something as obvious as

this! Just tell me, is Christ's death and resurrection our work,

what we do, or not? It is obviously not our work, nor is it the

work of the law. Now it is Christ's death and resurrection alone

which saves and frees us from sin, as Paul writes in Rom. 4: "He

died for our sin and arose for our righteousness." Tell me more!

What is the work by which we take hold of Christ's death and

resurrection? It must not be an external work but only the

eternal faith in the heart that alone, indeed all alone, which

takes hold of this death and resurrection when it is preached

through the gospel. Then why all this ranting and raving, this

making of heretics and burning of them, when it is clear at its

very core, proving that faith alone takes hold of Christ's death

and resurrection, without any works, and that his death and

resurrection are our life and righteousness? As this fact is so

obvious, that faith alone gives, brings, and takes a hold of this

life and righteousness - why should we not say so? It is not

heretical that faith alone holds on to Christ and gives life; and

yet it seems to be heresy if someone mentions it. Are they not

insane, foolish and ridiculous? They will say that one thing is

right but brand the telling of this right thing as wrong - even

though something cannot be simultaneously right and wrong.

Furthermore, I am not the only one, nor the first, to say that

faith alone makes one righteous. There was Ambrose, Augustine and

many others who said it before me. And if one is to read and

understand St. Paul, the same thing must be said and not anything

else. His words, as well, are blunt - "no works" - none at all!

If it is not works, it must be faith alone. Oh what a marvelous,

constructive and inoffensive teaching that would be, to be taught

that one can be saved by works as well as by faith. That would be

like saying that it is not Christ's death alone that takes away

our sin but that our works have something to do with it. Now that

would be a fine way of honoring Christ's death, saying that it is

helped by our works, and that whatever it does our works can also

do - that we are his equal in goodness and power. This is the

devil itself for he cannot ever stop abusing the blood of Christ.

Therefore the matter itself, at its very core, necessitates one

say: "Faith alone makes one righteous." The nature of the German

tongue teaches us to say it in the same way. In addition, I have

the examples of the holy fathers. The dangers confronting the

people also compel it so they do not continue to hang onto works

and wander away from faith, losing Christ, especially at this time

when they have been so accustomed to works they have to be pulled

away from them by force. It is for these reasons that it is not

only right but also necessary to say it as plainly and forcefully

as possible: "Faith alone saves without works!" I am only sorry I

did not add "alle" and "aller", and said "without any (alle) works

of any (aller) laws." That would have stated it most effectively.

Therefore, it will remain in the New Testament, and though all the

papal asses rant and rave at me, they shall not take it away from

me. Let this be enough for now. I will have to speak more about

this in the treatise "On Justification" (if God grants me grace).

On the other question as to whether the departed saints intercede

for us. For the present I am only going to give a brief answer as

I am considering publishing a sermon on the beloved angels in

which I will respond more fully on this matter (God willing).

First, you know that under the papacy it is not only taught that

the saints in heaven intercede for us - even though we cannot know

this as the Scripture does not tell us such - but the saints have

been made into gods, and that they are to be our patrons to whom

we should call. Some of them have never existed! To each of these

saints a particular power and might has been given - one over

fire, another over water, another over pestilence, fever and all

sorts of plagues. Indeed, God must have been altogether idle to

have let the saints work in his place. Of this atrocity the

papists themselves are aware, as they quietly take up their pipes

and preen and primp themselves over this doctrine of the

intercession of the saints. I will leave this subject for now -

but you can count on my not forgetting it and allowing this

primping and preening to continue without cost.

And again, you know that there is not a single passage from God

demanding us to call upon either saints or angels to intercede for

us, and that there is no example of such in the Scriptures. One

finds that the beloved angels spoke with the fathers and the

prophets, but that none of them had ever been asked to intercede

for them. Why even Jacob the patriarch did not ask the angel with

whom he wrestled for any intercession. Instead, he only took from

him a blessing. In fact, on finds the very opposite in revelation

as the angel will not allow itself to be worshipped by John. [Rev.

22] So the worship of saints shows itself as nothing but human

nonsense, our own invention separated from the word of God and the

Scriptures.

As it is not proper in the matter of divine worship for us to do

anything that is not commanded by God (and that whoever does is

putting God to the test), it is therefore also not advisable or

tolerable for one to call upon the saints for intercession or to

teach others to do so. In fact, it is to be condemned and people

taught to avoid it. Therefore, I also will not advise it and

burden my conscience with the iniquities of others. It was

difficult for me to stop from worshipping the saints as I was so

steeped in it to have nearly drowned. But the light of the gospel

is now shining so brightly that from now on no one has an excuse

for remaining in the darkness. We all very well know what we are

to do.

This is itself a very risky and blasphemous way to worship for

people are easily accustomed to turning away from Christ. They

learn quickly to trust more in the saints than in Christ himself.

When our nature is already all to prone to run from God and

Christ, and trust in humanity, it is indeed difficult to learn to

trust in God and Christ, even though we have vowed to do so and

are therefore obligated to do so. Therefore, this offense is not

to be tolerated whereby those who are weak and of the flesh

participate in idolatry, against the first commandment and our

baptism. Even if one tries nothing other than to switch their

trust from the saints to Christ, through teaching and practice, it

will be difficult to accomplish, that one should come to him and

rightly take hold of him. One need not paint the Devil on the

door - he will already be present.

We can finally be certain that God is not angry with us, and that

even if we do not call on the saints for intercession, we are

secure for God has never commanded it. God says that God is a

jealous God granting their iniquities on those who do not keep his

commandments [Ex.20]; but there is no commandment here and,

therefore, no anger to be feared. Since, then, there is on this

side security and on the other side great risk and offense against

the Word of God, why should we go from security into danger where

we do not have the Word of God to sustain, comfort and save us in

the times of trial? For it is written, "Whoever loves danger will

perish by it" [Ecclus. 3], and God's commandment says, "You shall

not put the Lord your God to the test" [Matt. 4].

"But," they say, "this way you condemn all of Christendom which

has always maintained this - until now." I answer: I know very

well that the priests and monks seek this cloak for their

blasphemies. They want to give to Christendom the damage caused

by their own negligence. Then, when we say, "Christendom does not

err," we shall also be saying that they do not err, since

Christendom believes it to be so. So no pilgrimage can be wrong,

no matter how obviously the Devil is a participant in it. No

indulgence can be wrong, regardless of how horrible the lies

involved. In other words, there is nothing there but holiness!

Therefore to this you reply, "It is not a question of who is and

who is not condemned." They inject this irrelevant idea in order

to divert us from the topic at hand. We are now discussing the

Word of God. What Christendom is or do does belongs somewhere

else. The question here is: "What is or is not the Word of God?

What is not the Word of God does not make Christendom.

We read that in the days of Elijah the prophet there was

apparently no word from God and not worship of God in Israel. For

Elijah says, "Lord, they have killed your prophets and destroyed

your altars, and I am left totally alone" [I Kings 19]. Here King

Ahab and others could have said, "Elijah, with talk like that you

are condemning all the people of God." However God had at the

same time kept seven thousand [I Kings 19]. How? Do you not also

think that God could now, under the papacy, have preserved his

own, even though the priests and monks of Christendom have been

teachers of the devil and gone to hell? Many children and young

people have died in Christ. For even under the anti-Christ,

Christ has strongly sustained baptism, the bare text of the gospel

in the pulpit, the Lord's Prayer, and the Creed. By this means he

sustained many of his Christians, and therefore also his

Christendom, and said nothing about it to these devil's teachers.

Now even though Christians have done some parts of the papal

blasphemy, the papal asses have not yet proved that they did it

gladly. Still less does it prove that they even did the right

thing. All Christians can err and sin, but God has taught them to

pray in the Lord's Prayer for the forgiveness of sins. God could

very well forgive the sins they had to unwillingly, unknowingly,

and under the coercion of the Antichrist commit, without saying

anything about it to the priests and monks! It can,however, be

easily proven that there has always been a great deal of secret

murmuring and complaining against the clergy throughout the world,

and that they are not treating Christendom properly. And the

papal asses have courageously withstood such complaining with fire

and sword, even to the present day. This murmuring proves how

happy Christians have been over these blasphemies, and how right

they have been in doing them!

So out with it, you papal asses! Say that this is the teaching of

Christendom: these stinking lies which you villains and traitors

have forced upon Christendom and for the sake of which you

murderers have killed many Christians. Why each letter of every

papal law gives testimony to the fact that nothing has ever been

taught by the counsel and the consent of Christendom. There is

nothing there but "districte precipiendo mandamus" ["we teach and

strictly command"]. That has been your Holy Spirit. Christendom

has had to suffer this tyranny. This tyranny has robbed it of the

sacrament and, not by its own fault, has been held in captivity.

And still the asses would pawn of on us this intolerable tyranny

of their own wickedness as a willing act and example of

Christendom - and thereby acquit themselves!

But this is getting too long. Let this be enough of an answer to

your questions for now. More another time. Excuse this long

letter. Christ our Lord be with us all. Amen.

Martin Luther,

Your good friend.

The Wilderness, September 8, 1530