Martin Luther, Address To The Nobility of the German Nation (1520) From the Internet History Sourcebooks Project and translated by C. A. Buchheim. - PDF

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Martin Luther, Address To The Nobility of the German Nation (1520) From the Internet History Sourcebooks Project and translated by C. A. Buchheim. Martin Luther, the leader of the Protestant Reformation,
Martin Luther, Address To The Nobility of the German Nation (1520) From the Internet History Sourcebooks Project and translated by C. A. Buchheim. Martin Luther, the leader of the Protestant Reformation, was born at Eisleben, Prussian Saxony, November 10, He studied jurisprudence at the University of Erfurt, where he later lectured on physics and ethics. In 1505 he entered the Augustinian monastery at Erfurt; two years later was ordained priest; and in 1508 became professor of philosophy at the University of Wittenberg. The starting-point of Luther's career as a reformer was his posting on the church door of Wittenberg the Ninety-five Theses on October 31, These formed a passionate statement of the true nature of penitence, and a protest against the sale of indulgences. In issuing the Theses, Luther expected the support of his ecclesiastical superiors; and it was only after three years of controversy, during which he refused a summons to Rome, that he proceeded to publish those works that brought about his expulsion from the Church. The year 1520 saw the publication of the three great documents which laid down the fundamental principles of the Reformation. In the Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, Luther attacked the corruptions of the Church and the abuses of its authority, and asserted the right of the layman to spiritual independence. In Concerning Christian Liberty, he expounded the doctrine of justification by faith, and gave a complete presentation of his theological position. In the Babylonish Captivity of the Church, he criticized the sacramental system, and set up the Scriptures as the supreme authority in religion. In the midst of this activity came his formal excommunication, and his renunciation of allegiance to the Pope. He was proscribed by the Emperor Charles V and taken into the protection of prison in the Wartburg by the friendly Elector of Saxony, where he translated the New Testament. The complete translation of the Bible, issued in 1534, marks the establishment of the modern literary language of Germany. The rest of Luther's life was occupied with a vast amount of literary and controversial activity. He died at Eisleben, February 18, Luther to Nicholas von Amsdorf To the Esteemed and Reverend Master NICHOLAS VON AMSDORF, Licentiate Of holy Scripture and Canon at Wittenberg, my special and kind friend; Doctor Martin Luther. The grace and peace of God be with thee, esteemed and reverend dear sir and friend. The time to keep silence has passed and the time to (Eccl 3:7) speak is come, as saith Ecclesiastes. I have followed out intention[1] and brought together some matters touching the reform of the Christian Estate, to be laid before the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, in the hope that may deign to help His Church through the efforts of the laity, since the clergy, to whom this task more properly belongs, have grown quite indifferent. I am sending the whole thing to your Reverence, that you may pass judgment on it and, if necessary, improve it. Luther, Address to the Christian Nobility To his most Serene and Mighty Imperial Majesty and to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation. Dr. Martinus Luther. The grace and might of God be with you, Most Serene Majesty, most gracious, well-beloved gentlemen! The distress and misery that oppress all the Christian estates, more especially in Germany, have led not only myself, but every one else, to cry aloud and to ask for help, and have now forced me too to cry out and to ask if God would give His Spirit to any one to reach a hand to His wretched people.... We must renounce all confidence in our natural strength, and take the matter in hand with humble trust in God; we must seek God's help with earnest prayer, and have nothing before our eyes but the misery and wretchedness of Christendom, irrespective of what punishment the wicked may deserve. If we do not act thus, we may begin the game with great pomp; but when we are well in it, the spirits of evil will make such confusion that the whole world will be immersed in blood, and yet nothing be done.... The Romanists have, with great adroitness, drawn three walls round themselves, with which they have hitherto protected themselves, so that no one could reform them, whereby all Christendom has fallen terribly. Firstly, if pressed by the temporal power, they have affirmed and maintained that the temporal power has no jurisdiction over them, but, on the contrary, that the spiritual power is above the temporal. Secondly, if it were proposed to admonish them with the Scriptures, they objected that no one may interpret the Scriptures but the Pope. Thirdly, if they are threatened with a council, they pretend that no one may call a council but the Pope.... (a) The First Wall That the Temporal Power has no Jurisdiction over the Spirituality Let us, in the first place, attack the first wall. It has been devised that the Pope, bishops, priests, and monks are called the spiritual estate, princes, lords, artificers, and peasants are the temporal estate. This is an artful lie and hypocritical device, but let no one be made afraid by it, and that for this reason: that all Christians are truly of the spiritual estate, and there is no difference among them, save of office alone. As St. Paul says (1 Cor. xii.), we are all one body, though each member does its own work, to serve the others. This is because we have one baptism, one Gospel, one faith, and are all Christians alike; for baptism, Gospel, and faith, these alone make spiritual and Christian people.... Thus we are all consecrated as priests by baptism, as St. Peter says: Ye are a royal priesthood, a holy nation (1 Peter ii. 9); and in the book of Revelations: and hast made us unto our God (by Thy blood) kings and priests (Rev. v. 10). For, if we had not a higher consecration in us than pope or bishop can give, no priest could ever be made by the consecration of pope or bishop, nor could he say the mass, or preach, or absolve. Therefore the bishop's consecration is just as if in the name of the whole congregation he took one person out of the community, each member of which has equal power, and commanded him to exercise this power for the rest; in the same way as if ten brothers, co-heirs as king's sons, were to choose one from among them to rule over their inheritance, they would all of them still remain kings and have equal power, although one is ordered to govern. And to put the matter even more plainly, if a little company of pious Christian laymen were taken prisoners and carried away to a desert, and had not among them a priest consecrated by a bishop, and were there to agree to elect one of them, born in wedlock or not, and were to order him to baptise, to celebrate the mass, to absolve, and to preach, this man would as truly be a priest, as if all the bishops and all the Popes had consecrated him. That is why in cases of necessity every man can baptise and absolve, which would not be possible if we were not all priests. This great grace and virtue of baptism and of the Christian estate they have quite destroyed and made us forget by their ecclesiastical law.... Since, then, the temporal power is baptised as we are, and has the same faith and Gospel, we must allow it to be priest and bishop, and account its office an office that is proper and useful to the Christian community. For whatever issues from baptism may boast that it has been consecrated priest, bishop, and pope, although it does not beseem every one to exercise these offices. For, since we are all priests alike, no man may put himself forward or take upon himself, without our consent and election, to do that which we have all alike power to do. For, if a thing is common to all, no man may take it to himself without the wish and command of the community. And if it should happen that a man were appointed to one of these offices and deposed for abuses, he would be just what he was before. Therefore a priest should be nothing in Christendom but a functionary; as long as he holds his office, he has precedence of others; if he is deprived of it, he is a peasant or a citizen like the rest. Therefore a priest is verily no longer a priest after deposition. But now they have invented characteres indelebiles,1 and pretend that a priest after deprivation still differs from a simple layman. They even imagine that a priest can never be anything but a priest-that is, that he can never become a layman. All this is nothing but mere talk and ordinance of human invention. [Footnote 1: In accordance with a doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, the act of ordination impresses upon the priest an indelible character; so that he immutably retains the sacred dignity of priesthood.] It follows, then, that between laymen and priests, princes and bishops, or, as they call it, between spiritual and temporal persons, the only real difference is one of office and function, and not of estate; for they are all of the same spiritual estate, true priests, bishops, and popes, though their functions are not the same-just as among priests and monks every man has not the same functions. And this, as I said above, St. Paul says (Rom. xii.; 1 Cor. xii.), and St. Peter (1 Peter ii.): We, being many, are one body in Christ, and severally members one of another. Christ's body is not double or twofold, one temporal, the other spiritual. He is one Head, and He has one body.... In the same way the temporal authorities hold the sword and the rod in their hands to punish the wicked and to protect the good. A cobbler, a smith, a peasant, every man, has the office and function of his calling, and yet all alike are consecrated priests and bishops, and every man should by his office or function be useful and beneficial to the rest, so that various kinds of work may all be united for the furtherance of body and soul, just as the members of the body all serve one another.... (b) The Second Wall That no one may interpret the Scriptures but the Pope The second wall is even more tottering and weak: that they alone pretend to be considered masters of the Scriptures; although they learn nothing of them all their life.... Therefore it is a wickedly devised fable-and they cannot quote a single letter to confirm it-that it is for the Pope alone to interpret the Scriptures or to confirm the interpretation of them. They have assumed the authority of their own selves. And though they say that this authority was given to St. Peter when the keys were given to him, it is plain enough that the keys were not given to St. Peter alone, but to the whole community.... (c) The Third Wall That no one may call a council but the Pope Moreover, they can show nothing in the Scriptures giving the Pope sole power to call and confirm councils; they have nothing but their own laws; but these hold good only so long as they are not injurious to Christianity and the laws of God.... Therefore when need requires, and the Pope is a cause of offence to Christendom, in these cases whoever can best do so, as a faithful member of the whole body, must do what he can to procure a true free council. This no one can do so well as the temporal authorities, especially since they are fellow- Christians, fellow-priests, sharing one spirit and one power in all things, and since they should exercise the office that they have received from God without hindrance, whenever it is necessary and useful that it should be exercised. Would it not be most unnatural, if a fire were to break out in a city, and every one were to keep still and let it burn on and on, whatever might be burnt, simply because they had not the mayor's authority, or because the fire perchance broke out at the mayor's house? Is not every citizen bound in this case to rouse and call in the rest? How much more should this be done in the spiritual city of Christ, if a fire of offence breaks out, either at the Pope's government or wherever it may! The like happens if an enemy attacks a town. The first to rouse up the rest earns glory and thanks. Why then should not he earn glory that descries the coming of our enemies from hell and rouses and summons all Christians?... Therefore we learn from the Apostle clearly, that every town should elect a pious learned citizen from the congregation and charge him with the office of minister; the congregation should support him, and he should be left at liberty to marry or not. He should have as assistants several priests and deacons, married or not, as they please, who should help him to govern the people and the congregation with sermons and the ministration of the sacraments, as is still the case in the Greek Church.... What are the universities, as at present ordered, but, as the book of Maccabees says, schools of 'Greek fashion' and 'heathenish manners (2 Macc. iv. 12, 13), full of dissolute living, where very little is taught of the Holy Scriptures of the Christian faith, and the blind heathen teacher, Aristotle, rules even further than Christ? Now, my advice would be that the books of Aristotle, the Physics, the Metaphysics, Of the Soul, Ethics, which have hitherto been considered the best, be altogether abolished, with all others that profess to treat of nature, though nothing can be learned from them, either of natural or of spiritual things. Besides, no one has been able to understand his meaning, and much time has been wasted and many noble souls vexed with much useless labour, study, and expense. I venture to say that any potter has more knowledge of natural things than is to be found in these books. My heart is grieved to see how many of the best Christians this accursed, proud, knavish heathen has fooled and led astray with his false words. God sent him as a plague for our sins.... I have frequently offered to submit my writings for inquiry and examination, but in vain, though I know, if I am in the right, I must be condemned upon earth and justified by Christ alone in heaven. For all the Scriptures teach us that the affairs of Christians and Christendom must be judged by God alone; they have never yet been justified by men in this world, but the opposition has always been too strong. My greatest care and fear is lest my cause be not condemned by men, by which I should know for certain that it does not please God. Therefore let them go freely to work, pope, bishop, priest, monk, or doctor; they are the true people to persecute the truth, as they have always done. May God grant us all a Christian understanding, and especially to the Christian nobility of the German nation true spiritual courage, to do what is best for our unhappy Church. Amen! At Wittenberg, in the year 1520. Martin Luther, A Prelude on the Babylonian Captivity of the Church Excerpted from Project Wittenberg Online Electronic Study Edition, Trans. Albert T. W. Steinhaeuser. THE BABYLONIAN CAPTIVITY OF CHURCH: A PRELUDE 1.18 At the outset I must deny that there are seven sacraments, and hold for the present to but three baptism, penance and the bread. These three have been subjected to a miserable captivity by the Roman curia, and the Church has been deprived of all her liberty. To be sure, if I desired to use the term in its scriptural sense, I should allow but a single sacrament, with three sacramental signs. But of this I shall treat more fully at the proper time. THE SACRAMENT OF THE ALTAR 2.1 Now, about the Sacrament of the Bread, the most important of all sacraments Years ago, when I was delving into scholastic theology, the Cardinal of Cambrai gave me food for thought, in his comments on the fourth Book of the Sentences, where he argues with great acumen that to hold that real bread and real wine, and not their accidents only, are present on the altar, is much more probable and requires fewer unnecessary miracles if only the Church had not decreed otherwise. When I learned later what church it was that had decreed this namely, the Church of Thomas, i.e., of Aristotle I waxed bolder, and after floating in a sea of doubt, at last found rest for my conscience in the above view namely, that it is real bread and real wine, in which Christ's real flesh and blood are present, not otherwise and not less really than they assume to be the case under their accidents I therefore permit every man to hold either of these views, as he chooses. My one concern at present is to remove all scruples of conscience, so that no one may fear to become guilty of heresy if he should believe in the presence of real bread and real wine on the altar But why could not Christ include His body in the substance of the bread just as well as in the accidents? The two substances of fire and iron are so mingled in the heated iron that every part is both iron and fire. Why could not much rather Christ's body be thus contained in every part of the substance of the bread? The third captivity of this sacrament is that most wicked abuse of all, in consequence of which there is today no more generally accepted and firmly believed opinion in the Church than this that the mass is a good work and a sacrifice. This abuse has brought an endless host of others in its wake, so that the faith of this sacrament has become utterly extinct and the holy sacrament has truly been turned into a fair, tavern, and place of merchandise.... THE SACRAMENT OF BAPTISM 3.5 This message should have been persistently impressed upon the people and this promise diligently repeated to them. Their baptism should have been called again and again to their mind, and faith constantly awakened and nourished. Just as the truth of this divine promise, once pronounced over us, continues to death, so our faith in the same ought never to cease, but to be nourished and strengthened until death, by the continual remembrance of this promise made to us in baptism From this we can clearly see the difference, in baptism, between man the minister and God the Doer. For man baptises and does not baptise. He baptises, for he performs the work, immersing the person to be baptised. He does not baptise, for in that act he officiates not by his own authority, but as God's representative. Hence, we ought to receive baptism at the hands of a man just as if Christ Himself, no, God Himself, were baptising us with His own hands. For it is not man's baptism, but Christ's and God's baptism, which we receive by the hand of a man Baptism, then, signifies two things death and resurrection that is, full and complete justification. When the minister immerses the child in the water, baptism signifies death. When he draws the child forth again, baptism signifies life. THE SACRAMENT OF PENANCE Similarly, when He [Christ]says here: Whatsoever you shall bind, etc., (Matthew 16:19) He calls forth the faith of the penitent, so that by this word of promise he may be certain of being truly absolved in heaven, if he be absolved and believe. Here there is no mention at all of power, but of the ministry of him that absolves, it is a wonder these blind and arrogant men missed the opportunity of arrogating a despotic power to themselves from the promise of baptism. But if they do not do this in the case of baptism, why should they have presumed to do it in the case of the promise of penance? For in both there is a like ministry, a similar promise, and the same kind of sacrament. So that, if baptism does not belong to Peter alone, it is undeniably a wicked usurpation of power to claim the keys for the pope alone.... CONFIRMATION 5.1 I wonder what could have possessed them to make a sacrament of confirmation out of the laying on of hands, (Mark 16:18; Acts 6:6, Acts 8:17, Acts 19:6) which Christ employed when He blessed young children, (Mark 10:16) and the apostles when they imparted the Holy Spirit, ordained elders and cured the sick, as the Apostle writes to Timothy, Lay hands suddenly on no man (1 Timothy 5:22) I do not say this because I condemn the seven sacraments, but because I deny th
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