Two Kinds of Righteousness

Written by, Martin Luther


Brethren, “have this mind among yourselves, which you have in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of god, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped”
–Philippians 2:5-6

There are two kinds of Christian righteousness, just as man’s sin is of two kinds.

1   The first is alien righteousness, that is the righteousness of another, instilled from without.  This is the righteousness of Christ by which he justifies though faith, as it is written in I Corinthians 1:30:  “whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”  In John 11:25-26, Christ himself states:  “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me…..shall never die.”  Later he adds in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”  This righteousness, then, is given to men in baptism and whenever they are truly repentant.  Therefore a man can with confidence boast in Christ and say:  “Mine are Christ’s living, doing, and speaking, his suffering and dying, mine as much as if I had lived, done, spoken, suffered, and died as he did.”  Just as a bridegroom possesses all that is his bride’s and she all that is his—for the two have all things in common because they are one flesh –Genesis 2:24 —so Christ and the church are one spirit –Ephesians 5:29-32.  Thus the blessed God and Father of mercies has, according to Peter, granted to us very great and precious gifts in Christ –II Peter 1:4.  Paul writes in II Corinthians 1:3; “Blessed be the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”

2   This inexpressible grace and blessing was long ago promised to Abraham in Genesis 12:3; “And in thy seed (that is in Christ) shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.”  Isaiah 9:6 says, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.” “To us,” it says, because he is entirely ours with all his benefits if we believe in him, as we read in Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?”  Therefore everything which Christ has is ours, graciously bestowed on us unworthy men out of God’s sheer mercy, although we have rather deserved wrath and condemnation, and hell also.  Even Christ himself, therefore, who says he came to do the most sacred will of his Father –John 6:38, became obedient to him; and whatever he did, he did it for us and desired it to be ours, saying, “I am among you as one who serves” –Luke 22:27.  He also states, “This is my body, which is given for you” –Luke 22:19.  Isaiah 43:24 says, “You have burdened me with your sins, you have wearied me with your iniquities.”

3   Through faith in Christ, therefore, Christ’s righteousness becomes our righteousness and all that he has becomes ours; rather, he himself becomes ours.  Therefore the Apostle calls it “the righteousness of God” in Romans 1:17. For in the gospel “the righteousness of God is revealed…; as it is written, “The righteous shall live by his faith.” Finally, in the same epistle, chapter 3:28, such a faith is called “the righteousness of God”:  “We hold that a man is justified by faith.”  This is an infinite righteousness, and one that swallows up all sins in a moment, for it is impossible that sin should exist in Christ.  On the contrary, he who trusts in Christ exists in Christ; he is one with Christ, having the same righteousness as he.  It is therefore impossible that sin should remain in him.  This righteousness is primary; it is the basis, the cause, the source of all our own actual righteousness. For this is the righteousness given in place of the original righteousness lost in Adam.  It accomplishes the same as that original righteousness would have accomplished; rather, it accomplishes more.

4   It is in this sense that we are to understand the prayer in Psalm 30: “in thee, O Lord, do I seek refuge; let me never be put to shame; in thy righteousness deliver me!”  It does not say “in my” but “in thy righteousness,” that is, in the righteousness of Christ my God which becomes ours through faith and by the grace and mercy of god.  In many passages of the Psalter, faith is called “the work of the Lord,” “confession,” “power of God,” “mercy,” “truth,” “righteousness.”  All these are names for faith in Christ, rather, for the righteousness which is in Christ.  The Apostle therefore dares to say in Galatians 2:20, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”  He further states in Ephesians 3:14-17:  “I bow my knee before the Father . . . that . . . he may grant . . . that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”

5   Therefore this alien righteousness, instilled in us without our works by grace alone—while the Father, to be sure, inwardly draws us to Christ—is set opposite original sin, likewise alien, which we acquire without our works by birth alone.  Christ daily drives out the old Adam more and more in accordance with the extent to which faith and knowledge of Christ grow.  For alien righteousness is not instilled all at once, but it begins, makes progress, and is finally perfected at the end through death.

6   The second kind of righteousness is our proper righteousness, not because we alone work it, but because we work with that first and alien righteousness.  This is that manner of life spent profitably in good works, in the first place, in slaying the flesh and crucifying the desires with respect to the self, of which we read in Galatians 5:24, “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”  In the second place, this righteousness consists in love to one’s neighbor, and in the third place, in meekness and fear towards God.  The Apostle is full of references to these, as is all the rest of Scripture.  He briefly summarizes everything, however, in Titus 2:12, “In this world let us live soberly (pertaining to crucifying one’s own flesh), justly (referring to one’s neighbor), and devoutly (relating to God).”

7   This righteousness is the product of the righteousness of the first type, actually its fruit and consequence, for we read in Galatians 5:22, “But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”  For because the works mentioned are works of men, it is obvious that in this passage a spiritual man is called “spirit.”  In John 3:6 we read, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”  This righteousness goes on to complete the first for it ever strives to do away with the old Adam and to destroy the body of sin. Therefore it hates itself and loves its neighbor; it does not seek its own good, but that of another, and in this its whole way of living consists.  For in that it hates itself and does not seek its own, it crucifies the flesh.  Because it seeks the good of another, it works love.  Thus in each sphere it does God’s will living soberly with self, justly with neighbor, devoutly toward God.

8   This righteousness follows the example of Christ in this respect and is transformed into his likeness.  It is precisely this that Christ requires.  Just as he himself did all things for us, not seeking his own good but ours only—and in this he was most obedient to God the Father—so he desires that we also should set the same example for our neighbors.

9   We read in Romans 6:19 that this righteousness is set opposite our own actual sin:  “For just as you once yielded your members to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now yield your members to righteousness for sanctification.”  Therefore through the first righteousness arises the voice of the bridegroom who says to the soul, “I am yours,” but through the second comes the voice of the bride who answers, “I am yours.”  Then the marriage is consummated; it becomes strong and complete in accordance with the Song of Solomon 2:16, “My beloved is mine and I am his.”  Then the soul no longer seeks to be righteous in and for itself, but it has Christ as its righteousness and therefore seeks only the welfare of others.  Therefore the Lord of the Synagogue threatens through the  prophet “And I will make to cease from the cities of Judah and from the streets of Jerusalem the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride” –Jeremiah 7:34.

10   This is what the text we are now considering says:  “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” –Philippians 2:5.  This means you should be as inclined and disposed toward one another as you see Christ was disposed toward you.  How?  Thus, surely, that “though he was in the form of God, –he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of servant” –Philippians 2:6-7.  The term “form of God” here does not mean the “essence of God” because Christ never emptied himself of this.  Neither can the phrase “form of a servant” be said to mean “human essence.”  But the “form of God” is wisdom, power, righteousness, goodness—and freedom too; for Christ was a free, powerful, wise man, subject to none of the vices or sins to which all other men are subject.  He was pre-eminent in such attributes as are particularly proper to the form of God.  Yet he was not haughty in that form; he did not please himself; nor did he disdain and despise those who were enslaved and subjected to various evils.

11   He was not like the Pharisee who said, “God, I thank thee that I am not like other men” –Luke 18:11, for that man was delighted that others were wretched; at any rate he was unwilling that they should be like him.  This is the type of robbery by which a man usurps things for himself—rather, he keeps what he has and does not clearly ascribe to God the things that are God’s, nor does he serve others with them that he may become like other men.  Men of this kind wish to be like god, sufficient in themselves, pleasing themselves, glorying in themselves, under obligation to no one, and so on.  Not thus, however, did Christ think; not of this stamp was his wisdom.  He relinquished that form to God the Father and emptied himself, unwilling to use his rank against us, unwilling to be different from us.  Moreover, for our sakes he became as one of us and took the form of a servant, that is, he subjected himself to all evils.  And although he was free, as the Apostle says of himself also, he made himself servant of all, living as if all the evils which were ours were actually his own.

12   Accordingly he took upon himself our sin and our punishment, and although it was for us that he was conquering those things, he acted as though he were conquering them for himself.  Although as far as his relationship to us was concerned, he had the power to be our God and Lord, yet he did not will it so, but rather desired to become our servant, as it is written in Romans 15:1-3, “We…ought…not to please ourselves…For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached thee fell on me.’”  The quotation from the Psalmist has the same meaning as the citation from Paul.

 . . . . The Apostle means that each individual Christian shall become the servant of another in accordance with the example of Christ.  If one has wisdom, righteousness, or power with which one can excel others and boast in the “form of God,” so to speak, one should not keep all this to himself, but surrender it to God and become altogether as if he did not possess it –II Corinthians 6:10, as one of those who lack it.

13   Paul’s meaning is that when each person has forgotten himself and emptied himself of God’s gifts, he should conduct himself as if his neighbor’s weakness, sin, and foolishness were his very own.  He should not boast or get puffed up.  Nor should he despise or triumph over his neighbor as if he were his god or equal to God.  Since God’s prerogatives ought to be left to God alone, it becomes robbery when a man in haughty foolhardiness ignores this fact.  It is in this way, then that one takes the form of a servant, and that command of the Apostle in Galatians 5:13 is fulfilled:  “Through love be servants of one another.”  Through the figure of the members of the body Paul teaches in Romans 12:4-5 and I Corinthians 12:12-27 how the strong, honorable, healthy members do not glory over those that are weak, less honorable, and sick as if they were their masters and gods; but on the contrary they serve them the more, forgetting their own honor, health, and power.  For thus no member of the body serves itself; nor does it seek its own welfare but that of the other.  And the weaker, the sicker, the less honorable a member is, the more the other members serve it “that there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another,” to use Paul’s words –I Corinthians 12:25.  From this it is now evident how one must conduct himself with his neighbor in each situation.

14  . . . . Whenever we, on the ground of our righteousness, wisdom, or power, are haughty or angry with those who are unrighteous, foolish, or less powerful than we . . . —and this is the greatest perversion—righteousness works against righteousness, wisdom against wisdom, power against power.  For you are powerful, not that you may make the weak weaker by oppression, but that you may make them powerful by raising them up and defending them.  You are wise, not in order to laugh at the foolish and thereby make them more foolish, but that you may undertake to teach them as you yourself would wish to be taught.  You are righteous that you may vindicate and pardon the unrighteous, not that you may only condemn, disparage, judge, and punish.  For this is Christ’s example for us, as he says, “For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).  He further says in Luke 9:55-56, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of; for the Son of man came not to destroy men’s lives but to save them.”

15   But the carnal nature of man violently rebels, for it greatly delights in punishment, in boasting of its own righteousness, and in its neighbor’s shame and embarrassment at his unrighteousness.  Therefore it pleads its own case and it rejoices that this is better that its neighbor’s.  But it opposes the case of its neighbor and wants it to appear mean.  This perversity is wholly evil, contrary to love, which does not seek its own good, but that of another.  It ought to be distressed that the condition of its neighbor is not better than its own.  It ought to wish that its neighbor’s condition were better than its own, and if its neighbor’s condition is the better, it ought to rejoice no less than it rejoices when its own is the better.  “For this is the law and the prophets” –Matthew 7:12.

16   But you say, “Is it not permissible to chasten evil man?  Is it not proper to punish sin?  Who is not obliged to defend righteousness?  To do otherwise would give occasion for lawlessness.”  I answer:  A single solution to this problem cannot be given.  Therefore one must distinguish among men.  For men can be classified either as public or private individuals.  The things which have been said do not pertain at all to public individuals, that is to those who have been placed in a responsible office by God.  It is their necessary function to punish and judge evil men, to vindicate and defend the oppressed, because it is not they but God who does this.  They are his servants in this very matter, as the Apostle shows at some length in Romans 13:4, “He does not bear the sword in vain, etc.”  But this must be understood as pertaining to the cases of other men, not to one’s own.  For no man acts in God’s place for the sake of himself and his own things, but for the sake of others.  If, however, a public official has a case of his own, let him ask for someone other than himself to be God’s representative, for in that case he is not a judge, but one of the parties.  But on these matters let others speak at other times, for it is too broad a subject to cover now.

17   Private individuals with their own cases are of three kinds.  First, there are those who seek vengeance and judgment from the representatives of God, and of these there is now a very great number.  Paul tolerates such people, but he does not approve of them when he says in I Corinthians 6:12, “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful.”  Rather he says in the same chapter, “To have lawsuits at all with one another is defeat for you.”  But yet to avoid a greater evil he tolerates this lesser one lest they should vindicate themselves and one should use force on the other, returning evil for evil, demanding their own advantages.  Nevertheless such will not enter the kingdom of heaven unless they have changed for the better by forsaking things that are merely lawful and pursuing those that are helpful.  For that passion for one’s own advantage must be destroyed.

18   In the second class are those who do not desire vengeance.  On the other hand, in accordance with the Gospel –Matthew 5:40, to those who would take their coats, they are prepared to give their cloaks as well, and they do not resist any evil.  These are sons of God, brothers of Christ, heirs of future blessings.  In Scripture therefore they are called “fatherless,” “widows,” “desolate”; because they do not avenge themselves, God wishes to be called their “Father” and “Judge” –Psalms 68:5.  Far from avenging themselves, if those in authority should wish to seek revenge in their behalf, they either do not desire it or seek it, or they only permit it.  Or, if they are among the most advanced, they forbid and prevent it, prepared rather to lose their other possessions also.

19   Suppose you say, “Such people are very rare, and who would be able to remain in this world were he to do this?”  I answer:  This is not a discovery of today, that few are saved and that the gate is narrow leads to life and those who find it are few –Matthew 7:14.  But if none were doing this, how would the Scripture stand which calls all the poor, the orphans, and the widows “the people of Christ?”  Therefore those in this second class grieve more over the sin of their offenders than over the loss or offense to themselves.  And they do this that they may recall those offenders from their sin rather than avenge the wrongs they themselves have suffered.  Therefore they put off the form of their own righteousness and put on the form of those others, praying for their persecutors, blessing those who curse, doing good to evil-doers, prepared to pay the penalty and make satisfaction for their very enemies that they may be saved –Matthew 5:44.  This is the gospel and the example of Christ –Luke 23:34.

20   In the third class are those who in persuasion are like the second type just mentioned, but are not like them in practice.  They are the ones who demand back their own property or seek punishment to be meted out, not because they seek their own advantage, but through the punishment and restoration of their own things they seek the betterment of the one who has stolen or offended.  They discern that the offender cannot be improved without punishment.  These are called “zealots” and the Scriptures praise them.  But no one ought to attempt this unless he is mature and highly experienced in the second class just mentioned, lest he mistake wrath for zeal and be convicted of doing from anger and impatience that which he believes he is doing from love of justice.  For anger is like zeal, and impatience is like love of justice so that they cannot be sufficiently distinguished except by the most spiritual.  Christ exhibited such zeal when he made a whip and cast out the sellers and buyers from the temple, as related in John 2:14-17.  Paul did likewise when he said, “Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness? –I Corinthians 4:21.         


Luther’s faith in prayer


Just as a shoemaker makes a shoe, and a tailor a coat…

…the reformer once remarked, “so also ought the Christian to pray. The Christian’s trade is praying. And the prayer of the Church works great miracles. In our days it has raised from the dead three persons –viz., myself, having been frequently sick unto death; my wife Catherine, who likewise was dangerously ill; and Melanchthon, who was sick unto death at Weimar (1540). And though their rescue from sickness and other bodily dangers be but trifling miracles, nevertheless they must be exhibited for the sake of those whose faith is weak.’

When these words were spoken, a great drought was afflicting the country, and hence Luther lifted his eyes to heaven and prayed, ‘Lord God, Thou hast spoken through the mouth of Thy servant David, The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon Him, to all that call upon Him in truth. He will fulfil the desire of them that fear Him; He also will hear their cry and will save them. Why wilt Thou not give us rain now, for which so long we have cried and prayed? Well then, if no rain.

Thou art able to give us something better, “a peaceable and quiet life, peace and harmony. Now we have prayed so much, prayed so often, and our prayers not being granted, dear Father, the wicked will say, Christ, Thy beloved Son, hath told a falsehood, saying, Verily, verily, I say unto you, “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My name, He will give it you.” Thus they will give both Thee and Thy Son the lie. I know that we sincerely cry to Thee, and with yearning. Why then dost Thou not hear us?’

This was in the year 1532, and in the course of that very night an abundant rain refreshed the face of nature.

Taken and adapted from, “Anecdotes of Luther and the Reformation”
Author Unknown

A Concise Statement Regarding the Relationship between the Law and the Gospel.

Taken from, Luther’s Table Talk
Written by Martin Luther
Edited for thought and sense


It is no small matter that we should rightly understand what the law is, what it serves, and what is its proper work and office.

We do not reject the law and the works thereof, but we confirm and erect the same, and do teach that we ought to do good works; and we also affirm that the law is very good and profitable, yet so far, that we give him his right, and suffer him to remain within his bounds, that is, by his own proper work and office; namely,

First, that thereby outward sins be withstood and hindered.

Secondly, that inward and spiritual sins may be discovered, confessed, and acknowledged.

Therefore the law is a light which lights everything, it opens and makes everything visible, –but not God’s grace and mercy, nor does it display unto us the imputed righteousness whereby we obtain everlasting life and salvation: oh, no! In no wise: but the law opens and displays unto us our sins, our weakness, death, God’s wrath and judgment.

But the light of the Gospel is far another manner of light; the same enlightens the affrighted, broken, sorrowful, and contrite hearts; it revives, comforts, and refreshes them. For it declares, that God is merciful to unworthy condemned sinners for the sake of Christ, and that a blessing thereby is presented unto them that believe; that is, grace, remission of sins, righteousness, and everlasting life. When seen in this way we distinguish the law and the Gospel, and then we attribute and give to each his right work and offices.

Therefore, I pray and truly admonish all the lovers of godliness and pure religion (especially those who in time are to be teachers of others), that with highest diligence they would learn this message, which I much fear, after our time, ‘will be darkened again, if not altogether extinguished.

We must also respond with the Ten Commandments in due time and place. The ungodly out of the Gospel do suck only carnal freedom, and become worse thereby; therefore not the Gospel, but the law belongs to them. Even as when my little son Hans offends, if then I should not whip him, but call him to the table, and give him sugar and plums; thereby indeed I should make him worse, yea, should quite spoil him.

The Gospel is like a fresh, mild, and cool air in the extreme heat of summer, that is, it is a solace. But we must also realize that as the heat proceeds from the rays of the sun, so likewise a terrified conscience must proceed from the preaching of the law, so that we may understand and know that we have offended against the laws of God.

And when our minds are refreshed again by the cool air of the Gospel, do not be idle, do not lie down and spiritually sleep; even though our consciences are settled in peace, and are quieted and comforted through God’s Spirit, no, this is the time that we must show and prove our faith by such good works as to that which God has commanded.

LUTHER, Personal Reflections on Shattered Dreams

Taken from, “The Great Renunciation”
Written by, W. H. T. Dau.

Also from, “initium negocii evangelici”
Written by Martin Luther.


The place is Luther’s study at Wittenberg, and the time the summer of 1538…

Luther is writing the Preface to a collection of theses for theological debates on matters relating to the papacy which he had conducted at the University of Wittenberg, and which were published in the fall of that year.

Twenty-one years had passed since he had ventured into the arena of public debate as a timid searcher after light and truth. The questions which had agitated men’s minds at that time had meanwhile been brought to a decision. The Church which had been torn with the fiercest conflict in its history was settling, at least as far as the relation of the Evangelical party to Rome was concerned, into the condition of a permanent rupture. The decision had been reached; the schism had come, and Luther’s side had accepted it as a deplorable, yet unavoidable, solution of a baffling difficulty.

A small man looking backward over the illustrious path, that had been traversed during the last two decades might have been seized with the bragging spirit and given himself over to self-flattery. For the changes that had been wrought, not only in the external condition of the Church, but still-more in the inner life of its members, and in the social relations of mankind at large, were truly astonishing. A great blow had been struck in defense of the liberty wherewith Christ has made men free. The victor might have reclined on his laurels and condescended to receive the eulogies of his admirers.

In Luther’s instance the retrospect to which his mind was invited by the work before him in those dog-days of 1538 led to an introspection, and the somber reflections which crowding his thoughts were deposited into the Preface, in the form of the following confession:

“Dr. Martin Luther to the Pious Reader”


I permit the publication of my Disputations, or Theses, which have been discussed since the beginning of my controversy with the papacy and the leading sophists of the time, chiefly to the end that I may not become lifted up with the magnitude of the affair and the success which God has bestowed on it. For in these Theses my disgrace is publicly exhibited, that is, my weakness and ignorance, which compelled me at the beginning to enter upon this business with the greatest trembling and misgiving.

I was drawn into this affair alone, and without having foreseen it. While I could not retrace my steps, I not only yielded to the Pope in many and important articles of faith, but also continued to worship him. For at that time, who was I? An altogether miserable, insignificant little monk, more like a corpse than a living human being. And I was to run counter to the majesty of the Pope, before whom not only the kings of the earth and the entire world, but also heaven and hell (the threefold mechanism of the universe, as it has been called) stood in awe, and on whose nod everything hung!

All that my heart suffered in that first year and the year after, and how great my humility, which was not feigned, and my near despair was, alas! how little of this is known to those who later began, in proudest fashion, to assail the wounded majesty of the Pope. Although, to use Virgil’s phrase –they did not compose these verses, but they carried away the laurels; which, however, I do not begrudge them.

But while those people were spectators and left me in the lurch alone, I was not so cheerful, confident, and certain; for many things that I know now I did not know at that time. Yea, what indulgences were I did not know at all, nor did the entire papacy know anything about it. They were held in reverence merely because of an established custom and from habit Accordingly, my disputation was not for the purpose of abolishing them, but because, knowing full well what they were not, I desired to know what they might be. And since the dead or dumb teachers, that is, the books of the theologians and jurists, did not satisfy me, I decided to call in the living for counsel, and to hear the Church of God itself, in order that, if perhaps there were remaining anywhere instruments of the Holy Spirit, they might take pity on me, and, while profiting all, might also render me certain regarding the indulgences.

Now, many good men extolled my Theses, but it was impossible for me to acknowledge them to be the Church and instruments of the Holy Ghost. I looked up to the Pope, the cardinals, the bishops, the theologians, the jurists, the monks, and expected the Spirit from them. For I had gorged and filled myself with their teaching to such an extent that I did not realize whether I was awake or sleeping. And after I had overcome all arguments with the Scriptures, I could in the end, even with the grace of Christ, scarcely get over this one point, except with the greatest difficulty and anguish, viz., that we must hear the Church. For the Church of the Pope I regarded (and that with all my heart!) as the true Church, with much greater stubbornness and reverence than these abominable parasites are doing who are nowadays glorifying the Church of the Pope to spite me. If I had despised the Pope as his eulogizers are now doing, I would have believed that the earth must swallow me up that very minute, as it did Korah and his followers.

But to return to my subject,while waiting for the verdict of the Church and of the Holy Spirit, I was forthwith ordered to keep silent, and my superiors appealed to the prevailing custom. Frightened by the authority of the name of the Church, I yielded and declared myself ready to Cardinal Cajetan at Augsburg to keep silent, begging him humbly to impose silence also on the clamorous opposition party. But he not only refused my request, but added that if I did not recant, he would condemn me and all my teachings, whatever they might be. But at that time I had already been teaching the Catechism with no little success, and I knew that the Catechism must not be condemned, and that I must not permit this to be done, lest I should deny Christ.

I did not, however, intend at this time to relate my history, but I confess my foolishness, ignorance, and weakness, lest any man –to follow the example of Paul, should think of me above that which he sees me to be, and in order that no one may entertain a doubt –if that should be possible –that in those great conflicts I was human, and am still human. At the same time I would by my example scare those foolishly brave, inexperienced (I had almost said conceited), miserable writers who have not learned to know the cross and Satan, and who think it nothing now to overcome the Pope, yea, the devil himself. They, consider it their duty to attack Luther, and when they have vanquished him, Satan is an object of ridicule to them.

There spoke a great heart. No note of triumph steals even faintly into this reverie, but only the awe of chastened sorrow is allowed to speak before the wreckage of one of earth’s greatest idols that surrounds the speaker.

Luther’s High Thoughts on Holy Scriptures

Taken and adapted from, “The Table Talk of Martin Luther.”
Written by Martin Luther.
Edited for thought and sense.

imagesThe Holy Scriptures surpass in efficaciousness all the arts and all the sciences of the philosophers and jurists…

…these, though good and necessary to life here below, are vain and of no effect as to what concerns the life eternal. The Bible should be regarded with wholly different eyes from those with which we view other productions. He who wholly renounces himself, and relies not on mere human reason, will make good progress in the Scriptures; but the world comprehends them not, from ignorance of that mortification which is the gift of God’s word.

Can he who understands not God’s word, understand God’s works? This is manifest in Adam: he called his first-born son, Cain –that is, possessor, house-lord; this son, Adam and Eve thought, would be the man of God, the blessed seed that would crush the serpent’s head. Afterwards, when Eve was with child again, they hoped to have a daughter, that their beloved son, Cain, might have a wife; but Eve bearing again a son, called him Abel –that is, vanity and nothingness; as much as to say, my hope is gone, and I am deceived. This was an image of the world and of God’s church, showing how things have ever gone.

The ungodly Cain was a great lord in the world, while Abel, that upright and pious man, was an outcast, subject and oppressed.

But before God, the case was quite contrary: Cain was rejected of God, Abel accepted and received as God’s beloved child. The like is daily seen here on earth, therefore let us not heed its doings. Ishmael’s was also a fair name “hearer of God” while Isaac’s was naught. Esau’s name means actor, the man that shall do the work –Jacob’s was naught. The name Absalom, signifies “father of peace.”

Such fair and glorious colours do the ungodly ever bear in this world, while in truth and deed they are condemners, scoffers, and rebels to the word of God. But by that word, we, God be praised, are able to discern and know all such; therefore let us hold the Bible in precious esteem, and diligently read it.

To world wisdom, there seems no lighter or a more easy art than divinity, and the understanding of God’s word, so that the children of the world will be reputed fully versed in the Scriptures and catechism, but they shoot far from the mark.

I would give all my fingers, save three to write with, could I find divinity so easy and light as they take it to be. The reason why men deem it so is, that they become soon wearied, and think they know enough of it. So we found it in the world, and so we must leave it

I have grounded my preaching upon the literal word; he that pleases may follow me; he that will not may stay. I call upon St. Peter, St. Paul, Moses, and all the Saints, to say whether they ever fundamentally comprehended one single word of God, without studying it over and over and over again.

The Psalm says: “His understanding is infinite.” The saints, indeed, know God’s word, and can discourse of it, but the practice is another matter; therein we shall ever remain scholars.

The school theologians have a fine similitude hereupon, that it is as with a sphere or globe, which, lying on a table, touches it only with one point, yet it is the whole table which supports the globe. Though I am an old doctor of divinity, -to this day I have not got beyond the children’s learning –the Ten Commandments, the Belief, and the Lord’s Prayer; and these I understand not so well as I should, though I study them daily, praying, with my son John and my daughter Magdalen. If I thoroughly appreciated these first words of the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father, which art in Heaven,” and really believed that God, who made heaven and earth, and all creatures, and has all things in his hand, was my Father, then should I certainly conclude with myself, that I also am a lord of heaven and earth, that Christ is my brother, Gabriel my servant, Raphael my coachman, and all the angels my attendants at need, given unto me by my heavenly Father, to keep me in the path, that unawares I knock not my foot against a stone.

But that our faith may be exercised and confirmed, our heavenly Father suffers us to be cast into dungeons, or plunged in water. So we may see how finely we understand these words, and how belief shakes, and how great our weakness is, so that we begin to think –Ah, who knows how far that is true which is set forth in the Scriptures?

What to take with you to Heaven!

download (1)On one occasion the Reformer, Martin Luther, paid a pastoral visit to a young scholar who was in his last illness, and one of the first inquiries made was…

s010“What do you think you can take to God, In whose presence you are so shortly to appear?”

With striking confidence the youth at once replied, “Everything that is good, dear father, “everything that is good!”

“But how can you bring Him everything good, seeing that you are but a poor sinner?” anxiously asked the Doctor.

“Dear father,” at once added the young man, “I will take to my God in heaven a penitent, humble heart, sprinkled with the blood of Christ.”

“Truly that Is everything good,” answered Luther.”

Then good dear son; you will be a welcome guest to God.”

What a wise woman my wife was!

Katharina Von Bora Luther by Hollie DermerBe strong and courageous.
Do not be afraid or terrified because of them,
for the Lord your God goes with you;
he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

–Deuteronomy 31:6

At one time I was sorely vexed and tried by my own sinfulness, by the wickedness of the world, and by the dangers that beset the Church.

One morning I saw my wife dressed in mourning. Surprised, I asked her who had died. “Do you not know?” she replied; “God in heaven is dead.” “How can you talk such nonsense, Katie?” I said. “How can God die? Why, He is immortal, and will live through all eternity.” “Is that really true?” she asked. “Of course, I said, still not perceiving what she was aiming at; “how can you doubt it? As surely as there is a God in heaven, so sure is it that He can never die.” “And yet,” she said, “though you do not doubt that, yet you are so hopeless and discouraged.”

Then I observed what a wise woman my wife was, and mastered my sadness. —Martin Luther.

The Power of Encouragement

“As soon as the coin in the coffer rings,
The soul from purgatory springs.”


burningbullThus began the debate of the Reformation…

…Luther, in an angry response to the sale of indulgences, posted a notice consisting of ninety-five theses upon the door of Wittenberg’s Castle Church. 

When a copy of Luther’s theses reached Rome, the pope, according to some accounts, said: “Luther is a drunken German.  He will feel different when he is sober.”

Rome, however, was worried about Martin Luther.  On June 15, 1520, Pope Leo X, in the papal bull Exsurge Domine, warned Luther that he will be excommunicated unless he recanted within the next sixty days.  The bull opened with a paragraph that compared Luther to a wild boar: 

“Arise, O Lord, and judge your own cause… The wild boar from the forest seeks to destroy it and every wild beast feeds upon it.”

The day after receiving a copy of the pope’s bull, Luther wrote to a friend, “This bull condemns Christ himself” and that he was now “certain the pope is the Antichrist.” His tone was defiant.

Although describing himself as “physically fearful and trembling,” Luther and a small band of supporters entered Worms on the early evening of April 16 in a two-wheeled cart.  A crowd of two thousand people helped escort Luther to his lodging.

As Luther was passing to the assembly-room of the Diet, he was clapped on the shoulder by a famous knight and general of the empire, Georg von Frundsberg, who said, “Monk, monk, you are in a strait the like of which myself and many leaders, in the most desperate battles, have never known. But if thy thoughts are just, and thou art sure of thy cause, go on, in God’s name; and be of good cheer; He will not forsake thee.”

But though Luther’s body was weak, his mind was strong, and it is said that, “his air quickly became calm and dignified.”

When Luther, at the Diet, was asked to recant his works, he instead described some of his writings as particularly those “in which I attack the papacy and the belief of the papists, as monstrosities, involving the ruin of sound doctrine and of men’s souls.”  

But rather than receiving the direct, “yes or no” answer he was looking for, Eck found that Luther’s answer was evasive.  He asked again, “Martin–answer candidly and without horns (as in meaning the “horns of a dilemma” or, I want a straight answer) –do you or do you not repudiate your books and the errors which they contain?”

Luther refused to disavow these writings, because to do so would allow “Rome would make use of the disavowal, to extend her kingdom and oppress men’s souls.” After, repeating his answer in Latin as requested, (he had spoken in German) a sweating and tired Luther threw up his arms in victory and left the hall to a chorus of hisses from the Spaniards present. 

Luther would not compromise on his principles.

The disputation between Eck and Luther lasted till July 13. Luther concluded his argument with the words: ’I am sorry that the learned doctor only dips into Scripture as deep as the water-spider into the water–nay, that he seems to fly from it as the devil from the Cross. I prefer, with all deference to the Fathers, the authority of Scripture, which I herewith recommend to the arbiters of our cause.

Finally, the Emperor, on May 26, called Luther a “reviver of the old and condemned heresies” and an “inventor of new ones” and condemned him.

When we think about the great men of past ages, men who have changed the world, men who have made history, men who brought truth to the forefront, Martin Luther’s name will always be there as a shining example.  However, would it have been the case if it were not for the encouragement shown to him by a few people at just the right time?  God alone knows that, but what we do know is that God used those people to strengthen his servants when they needed it most.

My prayer is that God will use each of us to encourage those who need it. 

Understanding Erasmus

Taken from, “ERASMUS & LUTHER: Their Attitude to Toleration.”
Written by, Robert Henry Murray.
Edited for thought, sense and space.

8761879_f520[Today, that is, in this day and age, we usually try to understand Luther by understanding Erasmus, and I am no exception. But I would like to take a moment to understand where Erasmus was coming from and to understand the issues and problems that he faced. In doing so I think that we will better understand Luther, which is no easy feat, for Luther was a very complex man. A professor once told me that to understand a philosopher or theologian you needed to understand his torment, and the “goads” drove him, and Erasmus was certainly one of those goads that drove Luther. To understand Luther and what he did, also means to understand his day with its controversies; it also means to understand the great trends as well as its great thinkers of his day. But to understand Luther well… you must understand his adversaries. When Luther wrote “Bondage of the Will,” he realized that he not only had to crush Erasmus’ thought, but he had to crush Erasmus’ reputation, his credentials as it were, as a leading thinker. In short, Luther not only had to prove his works and thoughts against Erasmus, he had to prove “himself.” Not as some rural friar, or as some “drunken German,” as the pope described him, but as a most worthy man, or scholar, against the most respected thinker, or worthy man, of his day… and he had to do it in the field of scholarly combat. This he did.  But it took time for Luther to bring himself up to do it. And I also believe that the effort and the ordeal cost Luther… dearly.  One does not go into combat of this variety, against the forces of evil, in high places, without cost. But that is the subject of another post. –On a pastoral note, what has the Gospel of Christ cost you? Think about it.  –MWP]

Hans_Holbein_d._J._-_Erasmus_(detail)_-_WGA11500Great is the domination of Voltaire over the eighteenth century, great is the domination of Goethe over the first half of the nineteenth century, but greater still is the domination of Erasmus over the opening years of the sixteenth century.

Latin was then the common language of literary men of all nations, and over them all Erasmus reigned supreme: his was the seminal mind of the whole continent. As we shall see, perhaps no one ever demonstrated more clearly the seeming wisdom of Plato’s advice “that the world should be ruled by philosopher.”

The position of Erasmus was not a new one. The learned doctors of the Middle Ages were his predecessors. In that greatest century of their period, the thirteenth, they had created a method of thought. In the fourteenth they evolved a system of ecclesiastical government. In the fifteenth, through the work of the conciliar theory at the Councils of Bale and Constance, they directed the policy of the Church. What a body of men had accomplished, one man was now to accomplish. Had he not at his command that formidable machine, the printing-press, to diffuse his ideas throughout Europe?

With Petrarch, he could say, “Scribendi enim mihi vivendiqueunus finiserat.” He was more anxious to express ideas than to impress people. Life, however, saved him from being merely a humanist. “Erasmus and Reuchlin,” confessed Hutten, “are the two eyes of Germany.” “Not to respect, love and venerate Erasmus proves a man lacking in goodness and learning,” was the opinion of Lefevre d’ Etaples. Conrad Mutianus esteemed him “more eloquent than the eloquent Jerome,” and Andreas Carlstadt did not hesitate to declare him “the prince of the theologians.” “Almost all scholars are Erasmians,” so Johann Eck informed him.

For John Calvin, Erasmus is “the honour and delight of letters.” Philip Melanchthon once considered himself “as a simple soldier under the standards of Erasmus.” “To Martin Luther, for a time at least, he was “our honour and our hope,” the “king of literature.” There were many who even stated that Erasmus was due honors normally attributed to Divinity, he was the “New Evangelist.”

This admiration of Erasmus was not confined to the study of the scholar. Like Voltaire, he was courted by kings and princes. He can tell Polydore Vergilin 1527: “I have drawers full of letters from kings, princes, cardinals, dukes, nobles, bishops, written with the utmost civility. I receive uncommon and valuable presents from many of them.” German and Italian princelings felt honored by receiving letters from him. “The Emperor implores me to come to Spain,” he tells the Bishop of Augsburg, “King Ferdinand wants me at Vienna, Margaret in Brabant, and Henry in England; Sigismund asks me to go to Poland and Francis to France,and all offer me rich emoluments.” “Everywhere the greatest monarchs invite me,” he told Carondelet, April 30, 1526. Charles V nominated him a councilor and gave him a pension. Ferdinand, the brother of the Emperor,evinced the warmest regard for him: so too did Sigismund, the King of Poland. Francis I envied the glory of his rival in possessing such a subject, tried to attract him to Paris, “promising him mountains of gold,” and writing him a letter with his own hand.

Though the humanist was not always on friendly terms with the Church, the popes had, from motives of policy or from genuine admiration, promised him marks of their esteem.’ Leo X accepted with gratitude the dedication of his edition of the New Testament, and recommended the editor to Henry VIII.’ Adrian VI endeavored to bring him to Rome, there to compose books in defense of the Church. Paul III entertained the idea of bestowing on him a cardinal’s hat, and named him Prior of Deventer.

Since the time of Abelard, no man of letters exercised such widespread influence. It was indeed fitting that the Church should pay regard to the labors of her great son, for he embodied the religious, just as much as the literary, tendencies of the new age. “I have developed languages and letters,” he could proudly inform Louis Ber, “for the greatest good of theology.” He was the genius through whose clear brain all the questions of the time circulated, finding there an alembic whence they emerged clarified. What Leonardo da Vinci meant to the world in 1500, what Bacon meant in 1600, what Leibniz meant in 1700, what Goethe meant in 1800, Erasmus meant in the second and third decades of the sixteenth century.

Theology to the early Erasmus is truth, truth which must influence life. The aim of all religion is less to enlighten the mind than to transform the heart. Faith, hope and charity are the essence of Christianity. “What is religion?” is the question he addresses to Richard Foxe, Bishop of Winchester. “Is it anything else but true and perfect love? Is it not to die with Christ? Is it not to live with Him? Is it not to be only a body, only a soul with Christ?” “Through the Saviour we are one with God, and therefore one with all men. Theology requires a foundation of learning. For Erasmus is clear that if God does not require our knowledge, He does not require our ignorance. Therefore, at the age of twenty-two, in 1488, he had commented on the Epistle to the Romans. In 1505 he had published a Latin translation of the New Testament of Lorenzo Valla,with notes. In 1507 he asked Aldus Manutius to publish the Greek text of the New Testament. Throughout his early work there runs the assumption that theological knowledge is ascertainable, for it depends on the understanding of the text of the Bible, which, in spite of problems of interpretation, is clear.

The effort of school men, those pseudo-theologians, are vain. They define the indefinable, they distinguish the indistinguishable, and they divide the indivisible. They are like the heads of the Hydra: the more you cut them, the more they grow. He thoroughly agreed with Ambrosia that it did not please God to save men by dialectic. The goal of all our efforts, writes Erasmus, is Christ, and the road to Him is faith. “Faith is the only door which leads us to Christ.” He develops precisely the same conception of faith in his Paraphrases where he takes occasion to point out that in it “there is no compelling force, but by it all are invited” to come to Him.

Erasmus, like all humanists, was not prepared to believe in faith without works, but he was obviously prepared to lay more stress on faith than on works, and more stress on liberty than on grace. However, this “dagger of the Christian knight” poured scorn on the acceptance of scholastic dogmas and on the performance of outward rites. If men must adore the bones of Paul locked up in a casket, let them also adore the spirit of Paul which shines forth from his writing. If men honour the image of Christ’s face carved in wood or stone, or painted upon canvas, how much more ought they to honour the image of His mind expressed by the art of the Holy Spirit in the Gospel writing. In a word, the Church is a historical institution with a Divine foundation. Unlike Colet, he bestows more importance on the allegorical than on the literal meaning of the Bible. He warns men against the latter interpretation, exhorting them to break the hard and bitter husk so as to reach the sweet kernel “the spiritual sense” which is concealed within, and laying emphasis on the words of Jesus.

Religion to Erasmus is a process, not an act. Virtue, he insists, is a becoming. If it is true, he contends, in the spirit of Socrates, that evil is the result of ignorance, the first condition of virtue is knowledge of one’s self. “Let man look inward before he looks outward, though he is careful to add, “Carry out nothing under the pressure of feeling, but everything by reason.” What antique philosophy calls reason,” he teaches, “is what Paul sometimes calls the “Spirit”, sometimes the “hidden man,” sometimes the “law of reason.” Antiquity looks to reason, Christianity to grace. In the union of the ideals of Antiquity and Christianity, man becomes complete: he is a “whole being.”

Eight years after the appearance of the Enchiridion, came a book which dissolved all Europe in laughter, the Moria Ecomium, The Praise of Folly. Where the Enchiridion was intellectual and religious, the new work was classical and humanistic. For if on the one hand the author belongs to the Renaissance, on the other he belongs just as unmistakably to the Reformation.

A fortunate it was for Erasmus that Folly wore such a mask of jest when she appeared on the scene. The lash of Juvenal or Swift is forgotten for the mocking smile of Lucian or Voltaire. It is therefore no matter of surprise that the creator of the Moria Encomium never formally joined the party of reform.

His was not the enthusiasm of his younger rival, Luther: his was the calm observation of the irrationalities of mankind. However, many of the works of Erasmus are, in fact, an exposure of the follies and frauds of those who professed to serve the Church. For this very reason he must be counted among the forces preparing for the Reformation.

It should be noted that Erasmus, Reuchlin and Lefevre were, in spite of themselves, the precursors of Luther, Zwingli and Calvin.

It was the theologians who suffer from the lash of Folly: “They are deeply in my debt, as it is I who bestow upon them that self-love by which they are able to fancy themselves caught up to the third heaven, and to look down upon the rest of mankind as if they were so many sheep feeding on the ground; and indeed they pity their miserable condition, while they themselves… have so many escapes that no chains, though they should be forged on the anvil of Vulcan, can hold them so fast but that they will contrive to extricate themselves….”

From Church to State is an easy transition, and accordingly in 1515 Erasmus wrote the “Institution Principis Christiani” which discusses the education of a Christian prince. ‘Machiavelli’s survey of the same problem had been then in private circulation for two years. The humanist admits the position that the king rules by right divine, and draws the conclusion that his rule ought to be divinely right. The prince is urged to consider that “these are not your subjects whom you force to obey you, for it is consent which makes the prince, but those are your true subjects who serve you voluntarily,” a conception which the Erasmus afterwards applied to problems of the Church.

Both Erasmus and Machiavelli leave the people to the one side in their State. Erasmus, in true Renaissance spirit, teaches that the prince is to be far removed from the options held by the people: it is low, common, unworthy of him to feel with the people. As in the Praise of Folly there is a strong appeal made on behalf of peace and for international arbitration. For “Christ founded a bloodless empire. He wished it always to be bloodless. He delighted to call himself the Prince of Peace.”

One begins to see Erasmus’ strong desire for toleration when corresponds with Leo X, beginning by complimenting him on his decent from Lorenzo de’ Medici, and then proceeding to speak of his labours on the New Testament. The Pope is a musician: he is a lover of the fine arts. He builds the new basilica of St. Peter’s,allowing the sale of indulgences for the cost thereof. As Tetzel sells the indulgences in Germany, Luther attacks their sale, not as a reformer, but as an orthodox member of the Church. It is possible to look on the architect of St. Peter’s as a friend to toleration, for he provides the occasion which makes the monk begin to realize how far he is drifting from his own communion. Leo delights in the comedies of Ariosto and Bibbiena no less than in Erasmus’s edition of the New Testament.’ He protects the Jews, and actually has a Jewish doctor. Erasmus singles out his tolerance as one of his chief merits.

In the North, though not in the South, Greek rose from the dead with the New Testament in her hand. Erasmus published it in 1516 under the title of the Novum Instrumentum, and indeed it proved to be a new instrument of thought. Though it was printed at Basle, it was the result of his stay in Cambridge. “A shock thus was given’ writes Mark Pattison, “to the credit of the clergy in the province of literature equal to that given in the province of science by the astronomical discoveries of the seventeenth century.” Truth was no longer a treasure to be discreetly hidden in a napkin. The Novum Instrumentum, like the Novum Organum of Bacon, appealed to facts, not to authority.

Further, Erasmus wrote that,

“I fight absolutely the opinion of those who refuse to the common people the right to read the divine letters in the popular language, as if Christ had taught unintelligent mysteries, understood only by some theologians. … I would wish that women should read the Gospels, read the Epistles of Paul, and I would to God that these books were translated into all languages, so as to be known, not only by the Scotch and Irish, but by the Turks and Saracens. … To make them understood is surely the first step. They might be ridiculed by many, but some would take them to heart. I long that the husbandman should sing portions of them to himself as he follows the plough, that the weaver should hum them to the tune of his shuttle, that the traveler should beguile with their stories during the tedium of his journey.”

Authority also received rude blows from comments like those on Matthew 16:18,“Upon this rock I will build my church.” The author expresses his surprise that these words should be applied exclusively to the Roman pontiff, “to whom they undoubtedly apply first of all, seeing that he is the head of the Christian Church; but they apply, not to him only, but to all Christians.” On Matthew 17:5, “Hear ye him,” he points out that “Christ is the only teacher who has been appointed by God Himself. Such authority has been committed to no theologian, to no bishop,to no pope or prince.”Authority is to be purified, not destroyed. Too many bishops forget that they are pastors “called to feed, not to shear the sheep.” The spiritual character of ecclesiastical power is paramount.

He tells Henry Bullock, who may have attended his Greek class in 1511, that he is glad to find that his New Testament is applauded at Cambridge, although he has heard from very credible authority that there is a college there which has put out a decree that the book shall on no account enter its precincts. Think of men so absurd as to condemn a work they had not read,or reading could not understand. They had only heard, over their cups, or in knots in the market, that a new work had appeared which was to pluck out the eyes of the theologians like crows.

Erasmus believed in parchment, though the parchment was that of learning, but now and then he was tempted to try the steel of abuse. The years that followed the edition of his New Testament brought much disappointment to the scholar. He saw the steady and peaceful growth of reform beginning to be broken by men who thought more of steel than of parchment. Shut out by temperament from the whirl of active life, his mind rose superior to his frail body and moved habitually on the plane of great thoughts and bold ideas. The ills of the day” in Church and State” his diagnosis reduced to one cause, and that was ignorance, ignorance of what Christ taught, ignorance of what the Bible meant, ignorance of what great contributions the Greek and the Latin had made to the education of the human race. These evils could all be cured by knowledge,and it was his duty to supply it.

The facts of life told the scholar plainly that there was duality in the soul of man, that evil and good were continually striving for the mastery. For him there could be no dualism in his outlook on life. Knowledge was destined to grow from more to more, and similarly there was to be more reverence within us. Mind and soul were to be in accord, making a complete unity: a synthesis, not a separation, is the aim of his method.

As Erasmus reconciles faith and works, so he reconciles nature and grace. We are free before grace so we can accept it or reject it, though our virtues are the work of God. Grace is offered to us, and by our free will we receive it. If we practice good works for the glory of God, God will requite us.

His solution is plainly Augustinian. Those who are the farthest from Pelagius attribute the utmost to grace, almost nothing to free will, without, however, suppressing it; they deny that man can will good without a particular grace, that he cannot take it in hand, make progress, and accomplish it completely without the essential and continual help of His grace. Their view seems right to me.” “Man, however, must co-operate with God. The gift of grace is God’s, but man’s share is the reception of it. Man is not condemned save by his own fault.” The will of man remains in the last resort incorporating itself with the Divine action: it is a reality, not a sheer illusion, making for liberty, not for serfdom.

To understand Erasmus, one needs to see his a reverential attitude to the past: it has handed down truth to the present. He is just as willing as the School men to receive the teaching of the Church. Unlike the preceding generation, he exhibits no interest in such matters as the superiority of the Pope to a General Council, and vice versa. He is well aware that it is the practice which produces the theory, and not the theory the practice.

Nevertheless, he firmly believes, and nothing ever shook this conviction –that the Church has the right to define dogma, to authorize its definitions, and to order the permanent recital of the Apostles Creed. “The Church,” he is amply convinced, “never goes wrong in whatever pertains to salvation. … I believe with the utmost implicit confidence what I read in the Bible and the Apostles Creed, and I seek nothing beyond that.” “Humorous people there are,” Erasmus quietly points out, who believe in the infallibility of the Pope on condition that they can submit it to their own infallibility. However, he maintains that “what comes from the authority of a General Council is a celestial oracle, and it has a weight, if not equal to that of the Gospels, at least equivalent.” “It is true that they can abuse their power, that they can establish unjust or evil laws, irreconcilable with the inward liberty of the Spirit. What does it matter? The liberty of a Christian is,” according to the Colloquies,” not to be able to do what he wishes, but to be always ready to do,in the fervor of the Spirit, with a light and contented heart, what he is ordered, rather as a son than as a slave.”

Freedom from rigid definition is the Erasmian ideal. Dogma there is and must be. There is no need to add fresh articles to the Creed. The Church says Deus homo: St. Anselm asks, Cur Deus homo? All that St. Anselm says is an approach to truth: no man, however,need take it as de fide. Thinkers propose, the Church imposes. Thinkers seek,the Church finds. They explain forms of truth: the Church crystallizes them into dogma. Erasmus felt with Montaigne that it is putting a high value on the opinions of a writer to burn men who do not see eye to eye with him. For knowledge, if found accurate, he had nothing but respect.

Controversy Erasmus disliked even when it served the cause of truth. War he disliked much more intensely, for he felt that it tended to harden men’s views about other men and the causes on whose behalf they fought. Studies, he tells Servatius, are cold, but wars are hot. In those days of perpetual war it required no little courage to plead the cause of peace before princes. The matters of the Gospel must be treated in the spirit of the Gospel. Many humanists desired peace and goodwill among men because it secured their own peace. Erasmus, on the contrary, loved peace and ensued it for its own sake. Like St. Augustine, Dante, and Marsilius he ranks it as the highest earthly good.

When Luther lost his daughter

Lucas_Cranach_d.Ä._-_Der_Tod_der_Magdalena_LutherLuther was called to part with his daughter Magdalena at the age of fourteen.

She was a most endearing child, and her personality united the firmness and perseverance of the father with the gentleness and delicacy of the mother. When she grew very ill Luther said, “Dearly do I love her; but, O my God, if it be Thy will to take her hence, I resign her to Thee without a murmur.” He then approached the bed, saying to her, “my dear little daughter, my beloved Magdalena, you would willingly remain with your earthly father; but if God calls yon, you will also willingly go to your Heavenly Father.” She replied,.“Yes, dear father, it is as God pleases.”

“Dear little girl!” he exclaimed; “oh how I love her! The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” He then took the Bible, and read to her the following passage: —“Thy dead men shall live; together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust, for the earth shall cast out the dead.” He then said, ”My daughter, enter thou into thy resting-place in peace.” She turned her dying eyes toward him, and said, with touching simplicity, “Yes, father.” When her last moments were near, she raised her eyes tenderly to her parents, and begged them not to weep for her. “I go,” said she, “to my Father in heaven,” and a sweet smile irradiated her dying countenance.

Luther threw himself upon his knees, weeping bitterly, and fervently prayed God to spare her to them. In a few moments she expired in the arms of her father. Katherine, unequal to repressing the agony of her sorrow, was at a little distance, perhaps unable to witness the last long-drawn breath.

When the scene was closed, Luther repeated fervently, “The will of God be done! Yes, she has gone to her Father in heaven.” Philip Melanchthon, who, with his wife, was present, said, “Parental love is an image of the Divine love, impressed on the hearts of men; God does not love the beings He has created less than parents love their children.” When they were about putting the child into the coffin the father said, “Dear little Magdalena, I see thee now lifeless, but thou wilt shine in the heavens as a star. I am joyous in spirit, but in the flesh most sorrowful. It is wonderful to realize that she is happy, better taken care of, and yet to be so sad.”

Then turning to her mother, who was bitterly weeping, he said, “Dear Katherine, remember where she has gone. Ah! She has made a blessed exchange. The heart bleeds, without doubt; it is natural that it should; but the spirit, the immortal spirit, rejoices. Happy are those who die young. Children do not doubt, they believe; with them all is trust; they fall asleep.”

When the funeral took place, and the people were assembled to convey the body to its last home, some friends said they sympathized for him in his affliction. “Be not sorrowful for me,” he replied, “I have sent a saint to heaven.”  

Later, Luther wrote to a dear friend, “I believe the report has reached you that my dearest daughter Magdalena has been reborn into Christ’s eternal kingdom. I and my wife should joyfully give thanks for such a felicitous departure and blessed end by which Magdalena escaped the power of the flesh, the world, the Turk and the devil; yet the force of our natural love is so great that we are unable to do this without crying and grieving in our hearts, or even without experiencing death ourselves. The features, the words and the movements of the living and dying daughter remain deeply engraved in our hearts. Even the death of Christ… is unable to take this all away as it should. You, therefore, give thanks to God in our stead. For indeed God did a great work of grace when he glorified our flesh in this way. Magdalena had (as you know) a mild and lovely disposition and was loved by all… God grant me and all my loved ones and all my friends such a death – or rather such a life.”