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Preface to the Complete Edition of Luther's Latin Works (1545)

by Dr. Martin Luther, 1483-1546

Translated by Bro. Andrew Thornton, OSB

from the

"Vorrede zu Band I der Opera Latina der Wittenberger Ausgabe. 1545"

in vol. 4 of _Luthers Werke in Auswahl_, ed. Otto Clemen, 6th ed.,

(Berlin: de Gruyter. 1967). pp. 421-428.

Translator's Note: The material between square brackets is

explanatory in nature and is not part of Luther's preface. The

terms "just, justice, justify" in the following reading are

synonymous with the terms "righteous, righteousness, make

righteous." Both sets of English words are common translations of

the Latin "justus" and related words. A similar situation exists

with the word "faith"; it is synonymous with "belief." Both words

can be used to translate Latin "fides." Thus, "We are justified by

faith" translates the same original Latin sentence as does "We are

made righteous by belief."


Dear Reader,

I have steadfastly resisted those who wanted my books published,

or perhaps I had better call them the confused products of my

nighttime study. First, I did not want the labors of the ancient

authors to be buried under my new works and the reader to be

hindered from reading them. Second, there now exists, thanks to

the grace of God, a good number of systematically arranged books,

especially the "Loci communes" of Philip, [Philip Melanchthon,

scholar of Greek and associate of Luther at Wittenberg.] from

which a theologian or bishop can get a thorough foundation [cf

Titus 1:9], so that he might be strong in preaching the doctrine

of virtue. Third, and most importantly, the Bible itself is now

available in almost every language. The disordered train of

events, however, has seen to it that my works resemble a wild,

disorganized chaos, which now even I cannot easily put into order.

For these reasons I wanted all my books to be buried in perpetual

oblivion, that thus there might be room for better books. But

other people, by their bold and unrelenting arguments, badgered me

into publishing mine. They maintained that, if I did not permit

them to be published while I was alive, people would publish them

after I was dead anyway, people ignorant of the sequence of events

and of the causes behind them. Thus instead of one confusion,

there would be many. I also had to take into account the wish and

command of our most illustrious Prince Elector Johann Frederick,

who ordered or rather forced the printers not only to print this

edition but also to get it done quickly.

Above all I beg the reader, for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ,

to read these works with discernment, or perhaps I should say with

compassion. The reader should know that I was once a monk, the

most rabid of papists, when I took up this whole affair. I was so

drunk, so submerged in the pope's doctrines, that I was ready, if

I could, to kill or help kill those who would have advocated by so

much as a single syllable withdrawing obedience to the pope.

That's how much of a Saul I was [i.e., St. Paul, who, before his

conversion, was called Saul and who was zealous in his persecution

of Christians], as many still are. I wasn't so icy cold in

defending the papacy as was Eck and those like him, who seemed to

me to defend the pope more for the sake of their bellies than

through serious commitment. To this day they seem to me to be

laughing at the pope like Epicureans. I took the matter seriously

because I had a horrible fear of the Last Day, yet still wished

from the depths of my heart to be saved.

Consequently you will find that, in my earlier writings, I most

humbly conceded many important things to the pope, things which I

later detested and now detest as being the greatest blasphemy and

abomination. Therefore, dear reader, kindly ascribe this error or,

as my calumniators call it, this contradiction to the time and to

my inexperience. At first I was alone and surely much too inept

and unlearned to be dealing with such matters. For, as God is my

witness, it was by accident and not by my own will or desire that

I got involved in all this turmoil.

When in 1517 indulgences were sold (I wanted to say promulgated)

in these regions for disgraceful profit, I was a preacher, a young

Doctor of Theology, as they say. I began to dissuade the people

from lending an ear to the shouts of the indulgence-sellers. I

told them that they had better things to do and that I was sure

that in these matters I had the pope on my side. I was relying

greatly on his trustworthiness, since in his decrees he had very

clearly condemned the excesses of the quaestors [name of a

treasury official in ancient Rome] as he called the indulgence


Shortly thereafter I wrote two letters, one to Albert, the

archbishop of Mainz, who was getting half the money from the

indulgences (the other half was going to the pope, a fact of which

I was at the time ignorant),the other to the ordinary of the

place, Jerome, bishop of Brandenburg. I begged them to put a stop

to the shameless blasphemy of the quaestors, but they despised

this poor little brother. Therefore, finding myself despised, I

published a list of theses and, at the same time, a sermon in

German on indulgences. A little later I published the

"Explanations," in which, in deference to the pope, I maintained

that indulgences should not be condemned but that the works of

charity should be preferred to them.

What I did toppled heaven and consumed earth by fire. I am

denounced to the pope, commanded to go to Rome, and the entire

papacy rises up against me alone. These things happened in 1518

when Maximilian was holding the Diet at Augsburg, at which

Cardinal Cajetan was the legate of the pope. The most illustrious

Duke Frederick of Saxony, Prince Elector, took up my cause with

the Cardinal and asked that I not be forced to go to Rome but that

he, Cajetan, should summon me to a hearing and take care of the

matter. Shortly thereafter the Diet was adjourned.

Meanwhile the Germans were getting tired of putting up with the

plunderings, the buying and selling, and the endless frauds of the

Roman rascals. They were waiting with bated breath for the outcome

of so important a matter, which neither bishop nor theologian had

ever before dared to touch. This mood of the populace encouraged

me, because those crafty "Romanations" with which they had filled

and fatigued the whole world were now hateful to everyone.

Poor and on foot I came to Augsburg, my expenses paid by Prince

Frederick. I had from him letters commending me to the senate and

to certain good men. I was there for three days before I

approached the Cardinal, because those good men strongly advised

me not to go to the Cardinal until I had a safe conduct pass from

the Emperor. The Cardinal had been summoning me every day through

a certain spokesman. This latter pestered me greatly, saying that

if I'd only recant, then everything would be all right. But long

the injury, long the detour back.

Finally, on the third day, the spokesman came and demanded to know

why I hadn't yet approached the Cardinal, who was waiting to

receive me most kindly. I answered that I was complying with the

advice of good men to whom I had been commended by Prince

Frederick and that they had advised me not to go to see the

Cardinal unless I had a safe conduct pass from the Emperor. I said

that they were requesting one from the imperial senate and that I

would come as soon as it had been obtained. He got very angry and

said: "Do you think Prince Frederick is going to take up arms for

your sake?" I said, "I don't want him to." He asked, "Where will

you stay?" I replied, "Under heaven." He then asked, "If you had

the pope and the cardinals in your power, what would you do?" I

said. "I'd show them every reverence and honor." Then He moved his

finger in an Italian gesture and said, "Hem." Then he went away

and never came back.

The same day the imperial senate informed the Cardinal that I had

been given a safe conduct; they warned him that he should not plan

to have anything too severe in store for me. It is said that he

answered, "Fine, but I shall act according to my duty." These

events were the beginning of this whole commotion; the rest can be

learned from what follows.

That same year, 1518, Prince Frederick had called Philip

Melanchthon here to Wittenberg to teach Greek, doubtless so that I

might have a colleague in my labors of teaching theology. His

works testify to what the Lord has accomplished through

Melanchthon, his instrument, not only in literature but also in

theology, despite the fact that Satan and all his brood are


The following year, in February of 1519, Emperor Maximilian died,

and by the law of the Empire Duke Frederick became vicar. Then the

fury of the tempest abated a little, and gradually

excommunication, the papal thunderbolt, came to be held in

contempt. Eck and Caraccioli brought from Rome a bull [a papal

decree] condemning me. The former conveyed it to Wittenberg, the

latter to Duke Frederick, who was at the time in Cologne, where he

and the other princes were to receive Charles, the newly elected

Emperor. Duke Frederick got very indignant at that papal rascal

and courageously told him off in no uncertain terms because in his

absence he and Eck had disturbed his dominions and those of his

brother. He gave them such a magnificent tongue lashing that they

went away from him shamed and disgraced. The prince, endowed as he

was with unbelievable natural ability, knew all about the crafty

ways of the Roman curia [the administrative apparatus of the Roman

Church]; he knew exactly how to treat them. He was a man with a

good clear nose, and he could smell more and farther than the

Romanists could either hope or fear.

Thereafter they stopped testing Frederick. Furthermore, he paid no

honor to the rose that they call "golden" [a special mark of papal

esteem] which Leo X sent him that same year; on the contrary, he

ridiculed it. Thus the Romanists were forced to give up any hope

of duping such a prince. The Gospel advanced successfully under

the protection of this prince and was propagated far and wide. His

authority influenced many; since he was a most wise and

keen-sighted prince, he could incur no suspicion, except among the

hateful, that he was out to encourage and support heresy. This did

the papacy great harm.

In the same year, 1519, there was held at Leipzig the debate to

which Eck had challenged Karlstadt and me. But by no letter of

mine could I secure a safe conduct from Duke George, and so I

entered Leipzig not as a debater but as a spectator under the safe

conduct which had been given to Karlstadt. I don't know who was

blocking my way, since I was sure that, up to that time, Duke

George had not been hostile to me.

In Leipzig Eck came to me in my lodgings. He said he had learned

that I had refused to debate. I answered, "How can I debate if I

can't secure a safe conduct from Duke George?" He answered, "I

came here to debate with you, and if I can't, then I don't want to

debate with Karlstadt either. What if I get a safe conduct for

you? Will you debate with me then?" I said, "Get it and I will."

He left, and shortly thereafter I too got a safe conduct and so

had the opportunity of debating.

Eck did this because he thought he would cover himself with glory

in debating my proposition in which I denied that the pope was the

head of the church by divine right. In this proposition Eck had a

golden opportunity of flattering the pope and of meriting his

thanks and of overwhelming me with hatred and ill-will. That is

exactly what he did throughout the whole debate, but he neither

proved his position nor refuted mine. Even Duke George said to Eck

and me at breakfast, "Whether it's by divine right or by human

right, still he's the pope." If he hadn't been influenced by the

arguments, he would never have said such a thing but would have

approved of Eck alone.

From my case you can see how hard it is to struggle free from

errors which become fixed by universal standard and changed by

time-honored custom into nature. How true the proverb is: "It's

hard to abandon customs" and "Custom is a second nature." How

right Augustine was when he said, "Custom, if it is not resisted,

becomes necessity." I had been reading and teaching the Sacred

Scriptures diligently in private and in public now for seven

years, so that I knew almost all of them by heart. Then too, I had

imbibed the beginnings of the knowledge of Christ and of faith in

him, i.e., that it is faith in Christ and not works that justifies

and saves us. Finally, I was now defending publicly that

proposition of which I'm speaking, namely, that the pope was not

the head of the church by divine right. But I still didn't see the

necessary conclusion, i.e., that the pope must be from the devil,

for what is not from God must be from the devil.

I was so absorbed, as I have said, by the example and title of the

Holy Church as well as by my own customary way of thinking, that I

conceded that the pope was head of the church by human right.

However, if that right is not supported by divine authority, then

it is a lie and comes from the devil. After all, we obey our

parents and the civil authorities, not because they themselves

command it, but because God wants us to (cf. 1 Peter). That is why

I can, with a little less hatred, put up with those who cling so

tenaciously to the papacy, especially those who haven't read the

sacred Scriptures or even the secular writings, since I myself had

read the sacred Scriptures diligently for so many years and still

clung tenaciously to the papacy.

In 1519, as I've already said, Leo X sent the Golden Rose through

Karl von Miltitz; with many arguments he urged me to be reconciled

to the pope. Miltitz had seventy apostolic briefs, and if Prince

Frederick would hand me over, as the pope was asking by sending

the Rose, he would post one of the briefs in each town and so

conduct me safely to Rome. But Miltitz betrayed to me what was

really in his heart when he said, "Martin, I thought you were some

aged theologian who used to sit next to the stove and debate with

himself, but now I see that you're still a strong young man. If I

had twenty-five thousand armed men, I don't think I could convey

you to Rome. I've been sounding out the opinions of people along

the way to see what they thought of you. For every one for the

pope there are three for you against the pope." That's ridiculous!

He had asked the women and serving girls in the inns what they

thought of the Roman See [the Latin "sedes" = "seat"]. They didn't

know what the word meant and, thinking of a household chair, they

answered, "How are we supposed to know what kind of chairs you

have at Rome? We don't know whether they're made out of wood or


Miltitz begged me, therefore, to do everything I could to make

peace, and he would do his best to see that the pope did the same.

I promised that I would most promptly do anything that I could in

good conscience do. I said that I too wanted peace and that I had

been drawn by force into these squabbles and had been forced by

circumstances to do everything I did; I was not to blame. Miltitz

had summoned the Dominican friar, Johann Tetzel, the originator of

this tragedy. With threatening words from the pope he so broke the

man, who up to that time had been the terror of all and a fearless

crier of indulgences, that he wasted away and was finally consumed

by a mental illness. When I found this out, I wrote him, before he

died, a kindly letter in which I comforted him and told him to

take heart and not to fear my memory. But perhaps his conscience

and the wrath of the pope sent him to the grave.

People thought Miltitz and his line of action were useless, but it

seems to me that if the man at Mainz [i.e., Archbishop Albrecht of

Mainz] had followed Miltitz's course from the beginning when I had

reprimanded him, and if the pope had followed it before he

condemned me without a hearing and raged with his bulls, and if

they had suppressed Tetzel's fury, the affair wouldn't have

resulted in such an uproar. It's all the fault of the man at

Mainz, who was tricked by his own cleverness with which he wanted

to suppress my doctrine and to save his money which he'd sought

through indulgences. Now they seek counsel in vain; now they make

efforts in vain. The Lord has awakened and stands to judge the

peoples [cf. Psalm 76:9 and Daniel 9:14]. Even if they were able

to kill us, they still wouldn't have what they want; in fact,

they'd have even less than they have now while we are alive and

well. Some among them, whose nose is not completely inactive, can

smell this well enough.

Meanwhile in that same year, 1519, I had begun interpreting the

Psalms once again. I felt confident that I was now more

experienced, since I had dealt in university courses with St.

Paul's Letters to the Romans, to the Galatians, and the Letter to

the Hebrews. I had conceived a burning desire to understand what

Paul meant in his Letter to the Romans, but thus far there had

stood in my way, not the cold blood around my heart, but that one

word which is in chapter one: "The justice of God is revealed in

it." I hated that word, "justice of God," which, by the use and

custom of all my teachers, I had been taught to understand

philosophically as referring to formal or active justice, as they

call it, i.e., that justice by which God is just and by which he

punishes sinners and the unjust.

But I, blameless monk that I was, felt that before God I was a

sinner with an extremely troubled conscience. I couldn't be sure

that God was appeased by my satisfaction. I did not love, no,

rather I hated the just God who punishes sinners. In silence, if I

did not blaspheme, then certainly I grumbled vehemently and got

angry at God. I said, "Isn't it enough that we miserable sinners,

lost for all eternity because of original sin, are oppressed by

every kind of calamity through the Ten Commandments? Why does God

heap sorrow upon sorrow through the Gospel and through the Gospel

threaten us with his justice and his wrath?" This was how I was

raging with wild and disturbed conscience. I constantly badgered

St. Paul about that spot in Romans 1 and anxiously wanted to know

what he meant.

I meditated night and day on those words until at last, by the

mercy of God, I paid attention to their context: "The justice of

God is revealed in it, as it is written: 'The just person lives by

faith.'" I began to understand that in this verse the justice of

God is that by which the just person lives by a gift of God, that

is by faith. I began to understand that this verse means that the

justice of God is revealed through the Gospel, but it is a passive

justice, i.e. that by which the merciful God justifies us by

faith, as it is written: "The just person lives by faith." All at

once I felt that I had been born again and entered into paradise

itself through open gates. Immediately I saw the whole of

Scripture in a different light. I ran through the Scriptures from

memory and found that other terms had analogous meanings, e.g.,

the work of God, that is, what God works in us; the power of God,

by which he makes us powerful; the wisdom of God, by which he

makes us wise; the strength of God, the salvation of God, the

glory of God.

I exalted this sweetest word of mine, "the justice of God," with

as much love as before I had hated it with hate. This phrase of

Paul was for me the very gate of paradise. Afterward I read

Augustine's "On the Spirit and the Letter," in which I found what

I had not dared hope for. I discovered that he too interpreted

"the justice of God" in a similar way, namely, as that with which

God clothes us when he justifies us. Although Augustine had said

it imperfectly and did not explain in detail how God imputes

justice to us, still it pleased me that he taught the justice of

God by which we are justified.

Better armed now with these thoughts, I began for the second time

to interpret the Psalms. The work would have grown into a large

commentary, but I was summoned the following year to Worms for the

Diet convened by Emperor Charles V and so had once again to leave

the work I had begun.

I am telling you all this, dear reader, so that, if you are going

to read my little works, you should remember that I am one of

those, as I said above, who, as Augustine writes of himself, makes

progress by writing and teaching. I am not one of those who out of

nothing suddenly become perfect (although in fact they are

nothing), who don't work, who aren't tempted, who have no

experience, but who, with one look into the Scriptures, exhaust

their whole spirit.

Up to that point, 1520-21, the indulgence affair was still going

on. There followed the affairs dealing with the sacraments and

with the Anabaptists, about which I will write prefaces in other

volumes, if I live to do so.

Good-bye in the Lord, dear reader, and pray that the word may

increase against Satan, because he is powerful and evil. And now

he has become extremely vicious and savage because he knows that

he has only a short time and that the kingdom of his pope is

endangered. May God strengthen in us what he has accomplished. May

he prosper his work which he has begun in us for his glory [cf.

Phillipians 1:6 and Psalm 68:29]. Amen.