Comfort in Suffering by Stoeckhardt

Comfort in Suffering: Commentary on Romans 8:18–39

By Dr. Georg Stoeckhardt
Professor at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis

Georg Stöckhardt (1914)

Picture of Georg Stoeckhardt printed in the front of Gnade um Gnade, a collection of Stoeckhardt’s sermons published by Northwestern Publishing House in 1914.

Born in Chemnitz, Saxony, Georg Stoeckhardt (1842–1913) was educated in Erlangen, Leipzig, and Berlin. After serving as a pastor of a state church in Planitz from 1873–1876, he left the state church and joined Friedrich Carl Theodor Ruhland’s congregation, a member of the newly founded Evangelical Lutheran Free Church in Saxony, and served as his associate pastor from 1876–1878. He immigrated to the United States in 1878, where he served as a pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in St. Louis and taught exegesis at Concordia Seminary (full-time beginning in 1887).

He was the only German-university-trained exegete in the early history of the Missouri Synod, and his great learning and exegetical gifts were coupled with a firm, childlike faith. At Concordia Seminary he taught August Pieper and J. P. Koehler. The so-called Wauwatosa Theology those men came to represent in the Wisconsin Synod must be traced in part to Stoeckhardt’s influence, and it may be debated whether they met his standard.

In preparation for a conference paper, I have translated a section from Stoeckhardt’s unrivaled commentary on Romans (Commentar über den Brief Pauli an die Römer [St. Louis: Concordia, 1907], 371–415). This commentary is his opus magnum. In 1984, the Concordia Theological Seminary Printshop published an edition of this work in English, translated by Edward W. Schade and edited by Otto F. Stahlke. Although billed as “the complete text,” the translation is barely passable, contains abridgments, and only covers Romans 1–8, also leaving much to be desired in terms of formatting and source citation (the latter also being an issue in Stoeckhardt’s original). The present work seeks to remedy this almost-tragic situation with respect to Stoeckhardt’s commentary on one of the most comforting, significant, and oft-cited sections of Scripture.

Rather than posting this translation in HTML here, I am providing it as a PDF download (see below). Note that it contains a Bibliography at the end. May the Holy Spirit use this translation to give its Christian readers clarity of understanding of these verses in Romans, clarity of understanding of the doctrine of election, and a deep well of comfort from which to draw as they carry the cross, until they reach the eternal glory Christ has planned and prepared for them.

Click here to download the translation (second, revised edition).

Dealing with Demons

In the same vein as my last post, I found the following section from Joannes Aurifaber’s (1519–1575) original edition of Martin Luther’s Table Talk interesting and instructive. Since Aurifaber dates this table talk and was with Luther in Eisleben when he related it, it is one of the more reliable accounts from his collection. (I have double-checked the German spellings in brackets, and they are all original, even though they are sometimes inconsistent and incorrect by modern standards.)

Poltergeists Harassing Dr. Luther at the Wartburg

Lutherstube (1907) 2

The Martin Luther Room at the Wartburg in the early 20th century, printed in Carl Alexander, Die Wartburg (Berlin, 1907). Note the whale vertebra footstool on the floor by the chair—the only item in the room that was in the castle’s possession at Luther’s time. The bed-frame, which is not original and not present in the Luther Room today, is probably approximately where Luther’s bed was during his stay, though there was apparently a wall at the time separating that part of the room from the rest of the room. (The furnace was apparently located back then about where the desk is in the picture.) Note also the damage to the wall where there was once a blue ink spot—damage caused by the unverified legend of Luther throwing ink at the devil (or, as the “Wartburg” entry in Zedler’s 1747 Universal-Lexicon has it, the devil throwing ink at him).

In the year 1546, when Dr. Luther was in Eisleben, he related the following stories about how the devil had harassed him at Wartburg. He said, “When I departed from Worms in the year 1521 and was captured near Eisenach and was sitting in Patmos1 at the Wartburg Castle, I was isolated from people in a room [Stuben], and no one could come to me except two pages, who brought me food and drink twice a day. Now they had bought me a sack with hazelnuts, which I would eat from time to time, and I had locked them up in a chest. When I was going to bed one night, I got undressed in the room [Stuben], put out the light, and went into the bedroom [Kamer] and lay down in bed.2 I pass over the hazelnuts in the process, and it starts up and one nut after the other goes whizzing against the rafters really hard and knocks against my bed. But I didn’t do any investigating.

“Now when I had fallen asleep for a little bit, such a racket starts on the stairs, as if someone were throwing a bunch of barrels down the stairs. Even though I knew very well that the stairs were well secured with chains and irons so that no one could come up, so many barrels were falling down that I get up and go to the stairs to see what it was. The stairs were closed there. Then I said, ‘If it’s you, so be it,’ and I entrusted myself to the Lord Christ, about whom it stands written, ‘You have placed all things under his feet,’ as Psalm 8 says, and I went back to bed.

“Now Hans von Berlepsch’s3 wife came to Eisenach and had sniffed out that I was in the castle. She really wanted to see me, but that wasn’t possible. Then they brought me to a different room [Gemach] and put Mrs. von Berlepsch up in my room [kammer]. Throughout that night there was such a commotion in her room that she thought there were a thousand demons in it.

“But the best trick for driving him away is when a person calls upon Christ and despises the devil; he can’t stand that. You have to say to him, ‘If you are a lord over Christ, then go ahead!’ For that’s exactly what I would say in Eisenach.”

Source

Joannes Aurifaber, ed., Tischreden Oder Colloquia Doct. Mart: Luthers (Eisleben: Urban Gaubisch, 1566), fols. 289 verso—290 recto.

Endnotes

1 Since Luther was not imprisoned at the Wartburg and not bound to the rules of any order there, and yet was confined at the castle itself (and always had to be accompanied if he left), he called the castle and his room there Patmos, after the island where the apostle John had been exiled (Revelation 1:9).

2 This sentence has historical value for understanding the layout of Luther’s room at the time. There is a Kämmerchen or closet-sized room that adjoins the Luther Room today at the southwest corner, but this does not seem to have been large enough to serve as a bedroom. Plus, see Schwiebert’s discussion of this problem in Luther and His Times (St. Louis: Concordia, 1950), pp. 515–17. An 1817 floor plan printed there shows that there was once a narrow chamber running all along the north side of the room (the right side as you enter). The plan also shows that the furnace used to be more in the center of the room than it is today. The staircase leading down to the bailiff’s residence was to the right (south) immediately after exiting the room.

3 Hans von Berlepsch was the castellan or bailiff of the Wartburg for the duration of Luther’s stay. He was one of the knights who took Luther captive, but he treated Luther well during his confinement at the castle. His residence was directly beneath Luther’s room.

Luther at the Wartburg: Apprehension, Apparitions, and Expeditions

500 years ago, on Saturday, May 4, 1521, Martin Luther was apprehended and taken to the Wartburg Castle for safekeeping. The following is a compilation of accounts of his capture and his time at the Wartburg, as told by himself and his friends.

Martin Luther’s Accounts

Excerpt from Luther’s Letter to Georg Spalatin (Tues., May 14, 1521)

You would not believe the tremendous kindness with which the abbot of [Bad] Hersfeld received us. He sent the chancellor and the treasurer to meet us a good mile in advance. Then, once he had received us at his castle1 with many horsemen, he himself accompanied us into the city. The city council received us once we entered the gates. In his abbey he fed us sumptuously, and he put me up in his own bedroom. At five in the morning2 they compelled me to give a sermon, even though I pleaded in vain that I did not want the abbey to risk losing its imperial privileges, should the imperial officials set about to interpret this act as a breach of the safe conduct I had been given, since they were restraining me from preaching on the way home. I nevertheless told them that I had not agreed to the word of God being chained, which is also true. I also preached in Eisenach,3 but with the frightened clergyman protesting before me with both the clerk and witnesses present, yet humbly apologizing that this was necessary because he was afraid of his tyrants.

So then, you will perhaps hear in Worms that, in so doing, I nullified the safe conduct, but it was not nullified. For the stipulation that the word of God be chained was not in my power, nor did I agree to it. Even if I had agreed to it, I would not have been able to keep it, since it would have gone against God.

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East side of the Altenstein Palace, 2018, photo. © 2021 Red Brick Parsonage.

So the next day4 he [the abbot] lastly accompanied us all the way to the forest and, after sending the chancellor with us, had all of us fed again in Berka [on the Werra River]. We finally entered Eisenach in the evening, after citizens of the city came out on foot to receive us in advance. In the morning,5 all my companions departed with Jerome [Schurff].6 I continued on through the woods to see my relatives (for they nearly occupy the whole region). After freeing myself from them,7 as we are heading toward Waltershausen, I was captured shortly after going right past the Altenstein Fortress. Amsdorf was necessarily aware that I was going to be captured by someone, but he does not know where I am being confined.

My brother friar8 saw the horsemen in time and snuck himself out of the wagon. They say that he arrived in Waltershausen on foot in the evening without receiving any welcome. I have accordingly been stripped of my own clothes here and have been dressed in horseman’s attire. I am growing out my hair and beard, so that you would hardly know me, since I haven’t even known myself for a long time now. Now I am living in Christian liberty, released from all the laws of that tyrant,9 although I would prefer that that swine of Dresden10 were worthy of murdering me for preaching publicly, if it should please God, in order that I might suffer for his word. May the Lord’s will be done. Farewell and pray for me.

Excerpt from Luther’s Letter to Nikolaus von Amsdorf (Sun., May 12, 1521)

My arse has gotten bad.11 The Lord is visiting me.12 But pray for me, since I am also always praying for you, that God would fortify your heart. Be confident, therefore, and when the occasion presents itself, speak the word of God with confidence. Also write and tell me how everything went for all of you13 on the rest of the journey and what you heard or saw in Erfurt. You will find what Spalatin wrote to me in Philipp [Melanchthon’s] possession.14

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Drawbridge and entrance of the Wartburg Castle, 2018, photo. © 2021 Red Brick Parsonage.

On the day I was torn away from you, I arrived at my night-lodging in the dark, at nearly eleven o’clock, worn out from the long journey as a novice horseman. Now I am a man of leisure here, like a free man among captives.

Luther’s Table Talk (Summer of 1540)

Story of Luther’s Captivity

The elector consulted with his men about this matter and put his councilors in charge of hiding me away. But he himself did not know the location so that, if an oath had to be given, he could swear with perfect legitimacy that he did not know my location, though he did say to Georg Spalatin that if he wanted to know, he could find out.15 He was entrusting that detail of the affair to a nobleman. Amsdorf was also in the know, but nobody else. In a grove16 near Eisenach, [my brother monk] saw17 four horsemen up ahead, which prompted him to warn me as he snuck out of the wagon and stole away. Meanwhile the horsemen approach us in the hollowed-out road. They frighten the driver with an arrow; he immediately confesses.18 So they pull me down from the wagon and call me names. Amsdorf was faking it every which way. “Hey,” he says, “what kind of cruelty is this? Okay, okay, do with us as you wish!”19 in order to deceive the driver. In this way I am led away from the wagon and put on a horse. The horsemen seek out detours and various byways in order to trick anyone who might be pursuing, and they take up the whole day. At night I come into the Wartburg near Eisenach. There, as a squire, I often went down on hunts and to collect strawberries. I even conversed with the Franciscans.20 But the affair was kept secret; the knights are great at keeping quiet! Two noblemen took me captive, Sterbach21 and Berlepsch, and I had two servants who were supposed to lead me around, but I would send them ahead of me to arrange dinner parties for me.22

On Poltergeists

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The furnace in the Luther Room at the Wartburg, 2018, photo. © 2021 Red Brick Parsonage.

[Luther is responding to the view of Andreas Osiander—who is not present—that poltergeists are not real. Luther holds that they are real based on his own experiences. After citing three such experiences, he continues:] Fourth, when I was at the Wartburg by Eisenach, one time some nuts start shooting at me from the hell,23 which was also the devil’s work. I therefore scurried into bed. I experienced that myself. These are true stories.

Also, a dog was lying in my bed one time, so I took him and threw him out the window, and when he didn’t yelp and I asked in the morning if there were any dogs in the castle, the captain said, “No!”

“Then it was the devil,” I said.

Luther in Disguise

Doctor Martin Luther went to a monastery in Erfurt on horseback with a servant, after he was taken captive. Now as he is dismounting, a monk sees him and recognized him, and he says to another monk, “That is Doctor Martin!”

When his servant hears this, he quickly says to him, “Squire, you know that we promised a nobleman that we would be at his place tonight. Friend, get back on. We can still make it!” And he whispered in his ear what the monk had said. Once the doctor gets on and rides off, the servant leads him away again. He would otherwise have been strangled in the monastery during the night.

Soon thereafter, he comes to the Blackthorn Inn in Erfurt, where he shares a bed with a provost in his quarters. He had his canonical hours and pulled out his beads at the Lord’s Prayer. Then the doctor goes to him and says, “Sir, do you have anything else to do besides prattle with those beads?”

Then the provost had gotten mad and said, “I think that you are also one of those Lutheran scumbags, who despise all good Christian ritual!”

Luther’s Table Talk (April 5, 1538)

[Luther is responding to the pastor in Süptitz near Torgau, who has complained to him about apparitions and disturbances from Satan, who was pestering him by making loud noises at night, breaking all sorts of household utensils, hurling pots and dishes right past his head so that they broke into pieces, and laughing out loud at him while remaining invisible. After telling the pastor to be strong in the Lord and to pray to God and tell Satan off, Luther continues:] I was frequently harassed [by the devil] the same way in my captivity in Patmos, way up in the castle in the kingdom of the birds. I resisted him with faith and would confront him with that verse: “God is mine, the one who created man, and all things are under his24 feet [cf. Ps. 8:7]. If you have any power over that, go ahead and try it!”

Friedrich Myconius’s Account

The papal legate and several bishops attempted to put pressure on the emperor not to keep any safe conduct for Luther, seeing as he was already a stubborn heretic and his errors had been long ago condemned in councils and by the popes. And that idea might truly have caught on, had they not been afraid of the common people and the nobility, who were extremely in favor of this cause at first, and if they did not have to worry about a revolt.

But when several intelligent and good-hearted men, especially Duke Frederick of Saxony, noticed these plots and saw that the papists were not going to relent, it was arranged for Luther to be disguised and to ride away. And when he came to Weissenburg, which lies in the Palatinate, Luther wrote a brief confession of his doctrine and protestation for the diet and soon sends it back to them.25 He continued riding to Wittenberg and Saxony, etc.

The pious and praiseworthy elector, Duke Frederick, notices that the pope, legates, bishops, and clerics had decided that, since they could not beat Luther with writings, they would do away with him. But in order that he might get Luther out of their sight and notice, he arranged for Luther to be captured and carried away near Möhra, not far from Eisenach, in a valley alongside a wood, by several loyal, secret, and discreet people. It has never been heard of that a matter was able to be kept as secret as who had captured Luther and carried him away. Many people believed, including at the imperial diet, that it had been a serious capture—that’s how well the secret was kept. Doctor Jonas and several others were with him in the wagon,26 yet they were unable to learn anything further than that they were benevolent enemies. But later, in 1538, Doctor Martin told us the whole story in Gotha, in the home of Johann Löben the tax collector,27 so that Jonas, Pomeranus,28 and all of us who were present were amazed.29 A great many fine and engaging stories took place during this captivity, especially how the devil came to Luther twice at the Wartburg in the form of a large hound, intending to kill him, yet was overcome through Christ’s power. Also how he was in Reinhardsbrunn, in Gotha, and in Jena in disguise, did strange things there with the monks and others, and remained undiscovered. But there is too little paper in this book [to include all the stories he told].

Matthäus Ratzeberger’s Account

Now even after Luther withdrew [from the city of Worms] again, and the safe conduct reached its end in a few days, there was still reason to be concerned for him. But so that he would not be overtaken and that no complications would arise from Elector Frederick of Saxony protecting him beyond the safe conduct, Elector Frederick made arrangements in utmost secrecy for him to be captured and secretly carried away once he came to the border of his territory. But so that Luther would know how to understand this capture, it was confided to him in secret. Now he had Nikolaus von Amsdorf and Mr. Friedrich Myconius in his wagon with him, who were his traveling companions.30 Of these two, Amsdorf was the only one he confides in about it, but Mr. Friedrich knew nothing at all about this affair.

Now when they come to the border right by the Schweina River not far from Eisenach, a horseman emerges from the woods in the style of a knight and pushes forward with his steed. Mr. Friedrich Myconius notices this and warns his companions that something wasn’t right; there was danger in the air. Meanwhile the squire31 also whisks forward out of the woods, along with a servant, and they all advance toward the wagon. The horseman starts a quarrel with the driver by asking, “What kind of people are you transporting there?”, and he knocks him down beneath the horse32 with his crossbow. The squire likewise jams his bolt33 in front of the bowstring34 and holds it up to Luther, saying that he should surrender himself as prisoner. The other two companions are alarmed and beg for mercy. But once they have interrogated Luther and he confesses that he was the one they were looking for, they quickly set him on a steed and lead him back and forth in the woods until nightfall when they reach the Wartburg Castle right above Eisenach.

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The Bailiff’s Lodge where Luther was “imprisoned,” 2018, photo. © 2021 Red Brick Parsonage.

There they locked him away as if he were the most intractable prisoner, in a cell that was isolated from all people. Even the gatekeeper knew no better than that he was perhaps a criminal picked up on the street and brought there for imprisonment. Nevertheless, they did have a single page wait on him by carrying food and drink to him. Other than that, Luther was all alone and no one knew where he had gone. In this secret lodging (which he called Patmos), far removed from the people, Luther nevertheless tends to his writing so that he would not be idle. And since he was isolated, he had to deal with many apparitions and many disturbances by poltergeists, which caused him trouble. As one example, once when he was about to go to bed at night, a large, black English hound is lying on his bed and won’t let him get in. Luther entrusts himself to our Lord God, prays Psalm 8, and when he comes to the verse, “You have placed everything under his feet,” the hound suddenly vanished, and Luther remained calm and at ease that night. Many other apparitions likewise appeared to him during that time, all of which he drove away with prayer. He wouldn’t talk about them, though, for he said that he refused to tell anyone about all the many different apparitions that had plagued him.

Georg Spalatin’s Account

Now my Most Gracious Lord, already respectfully mentioned, Duke Frederick of Saxony, Elector etc., was still somewhat distressed. He definitely admired Doctor Martin, and it would have truly pained him deeply if any harm had come to him. He had no desire to act contrary to God’s word, but neither did he desire to incur the lord emperor’s displeasure. So he came up with a way to remove Mr. Doctor Martin from the scene for a while, to see if matters might be settled in the meantime. He thus had him notified the evening before he left Worms of how he was going to be removed from the scene, in the presence of Mr. Philipp von Feilitzsch, Mr. Friedrich von Thun (both knights), myself (Spalatin), and certainly not too many others. Out of respect for Duke Frederick, Doctor Martin submissively agreed to the plan, even though he certainly would have always much preferred just to get back at his usual business.

Doctor Martin departed with his companions. Now when they came to a place not far from Eisenach, people were arranged for who demanded that Mr. Doctor Martin get off the wagon alone, took him away, and led him to the Wartburg Castle above Eisenach. Hans von Berlepsch35 was steward there at the time and conducted himself well and in a friendly manner towards Doctor Martin Luther.

A few days later, the rumor reached Worms that Doctor Martin had been captured. Some were saying he that had been killed. All sorts of strange reports were going around.

The companions returned home, and not everyone was happy with the affair. And there were many inquiries about how exactly it all went down and where Doctor Martin had gone to. Nevertheless, it was kept in such secrecy that there were certainly few persons, and only very few, who knew about it at court besides the two brother electors,36 the persons already mentioned, Jerome Rudlanoff (the current secretary), and Hans Veihel,37 so that my often-mentioned Most Gracious Lord, the elector of Saxony, Duke Frederick, was also very pleased about it.

Johannes Mathesius’s Account

But since Dr. Luther was nevertheless put under the emperor’s ban and under the pope’s excommunication as an arch-heretic, our God—from whom all good counsels, actions, and ideas come—prompted the very wise elector of Saxony to issue an order, through confidential and discreet people, to put the outlawed and excommunicated Dr. Luther away for a while, just as the pious servant of God, Obadiah, King Ahab’s palace steward, hid 200 priests in a cave for a while and fed them, when the godless Queen Jezebel was seeking to take them down life and limb.38 But the just-mentioned elector himself did not want to know where they were going to take his prisoner, so that, if he was ever asked, he could excuse himself with reasonable validity. For it would have been difficult for him to withhold a man from great potentates and the entire empire, or to defend him before them, after an edict had been issued. In the meantime he was hoping that God would take up the cause of his Word and his confessor, which is what happened, and subsequent counsel and action speak further to this matter.

This plan to hide or put away our doctor didn’t sit right with him, for he would have gladly and willingly shed his blood as a testimony to the truth. But he went along with this wise counsel at the eager insistence of good people, since St. Paul, the holy apostle, had also let himself be lowered over the walls of Damascus by his brothers, and our faithful God had warned the wise men from the East through his holy angel, so that they wouldn’t trot right into the cunning snare of Herod, that royal fox.

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Site of Luther’s capture (facing east), 2018, photo. © 2021 Red Brick Parsonage.

So then, Dr. Luther left the imperial herald behind at Oppenheim, traveled through Hesse on the landgrave’s safe conduct, and arrived safely at the Harz Mountains. From there he had to travel through a forest to Waltershausen. He dismissed several of the traveling companions who were accompanying him through the woods. The others he sent ahead to make the lodging arrangements. Meanwhile, not far from Altenstein, he comes to a hollow in the road. There two noblemen, von Steinburg39 and Captain Prelops,40 pounce on him, along with two servants. After one of them gets information from the driver, they tell them to halt and grab hold of Dr. Luther with feigned brutality and pull him out of his wagon. The one servant strikes the driver and forces him to drive away, thus carrying Mr. Amsdorf away, while they get a rider’s mantel on the prisoner and help him onto a horse. They then lead him through the woods along the ascending horseman’s path for several hours, until night overtakes them. They also tie a man to a horse so that they would be bringing a prisoner with them. In this way they arrive at the Wartburg Castle near Eisenach just before midnight, sometime around Rogation week.41 There they treat the prisoner42 decently and well, so that even the cellar keeper is surprised by it. There Dr. Luther stays in his cell, as St. Paul stayed in his room while imprisoned in Rome. He would have preferred to be in Wittenberg and to tend to his teaching duties and, as he writes soon afterwards to good friends, to lie upon glowing coals for the glory of God and the confirmation of his word.43 Nevertheless, he endured in obedience for a time, in order that he might not bring any greater danger upon his dear elector’s land and people.

But because our doctor is tired and weary from the journey, as he complains in a letter,44 since the horsemen were leading him around in the woods for so long until the dark night overtook them, we will let him rest for a bit and regain his strength.

Next time we will further hear in the name of God what he accomplished in his captivity…

[Mathesius continues in the next sermon:] Now since our doctor faithfully served us and all of Christendom in his Patmos and captivity with his blessed work and testimony, this time we want to hear about the good that this hermit accomplished in his wilderness…

Although Doctor Luther stayed very inconspicuous at the Wartburg Castle, he was not idle. Instead, he daily tends to his studies and prayers and applies himself to the Greek and Hebrew Bible. He also wrote many good and comforting letters to his good friends. On Sundays and festivals he preaches to his host and confidential people and earnestly admonishes them to prayer.

But since a person cannot know the power of God’s word without the holy cross, and cannot subdue and disable flesh and blood without the rod of God, God sends all kinds of crosses to our hermit, for which he sincerely and faithfully thanks his God in a letter to a good friend.45 For he falls into a severe and dangerous physical infirmity that even caused him to renounce all claims on life. The devil likewise plagues him fiercely with depressing thoughts and tries to delude him with all kinds of phantoms and loud noises. In such trials and afflictions, God’s word, his own ardent sighs, and the heartfelt intercession of his brothers are the comforting staff and rod on which he leans, and he thereby patiently endures God’s testing. …

Now since our doctor continues his studies and writing in his hideout in this way and becomes frail as a result, good friends advise him to go on walks and get some fresh air and exercise for the sake of his health. He is therefore taken along on hunts, and sometimes he goes out to pick the strawberries on the castle hill. Eventually he is allowed to have an honorable servant, a discreet horseman, whose loyalty and gentlemanly objections and admonitions he often praised later, since he forbade him to set aside his sword in lodgings and told him not to go leafing through the books anymore, so that no one would take him for a writer. In this way Dr. Luther is able to visit several monasteries without being recognized.

He visits his friends in Martsal,46 but they do not recognize Squire Georg (as the horseman calls him). In Reinhardsbrunn a lay brother recognized him.47 When his steward notices this, he reminds his squire that he had to be at an appointed function that evening, so he quickly takes off again.48

Translator’s Afterword

Friedrich Myconius (or Mecum; 1490–1546) was Luther’s friend and correspondent and the head pastor in Gotha. Matthäus Ratzeberger (1501–1559) was Luther’s friend and Elector Johann Friedrich of Saxony’s court physician from 1538 to 1546. Georg Spalatin (1484–1545) was Luther’s friend and correspondent and Elector Frederick the Wise’s court chaplain and secretary at the time when Luther was captured. Johannes Mathesius (1504–1565) studied under Luther and was a frequent guest at his table before becoming a pastor in Joachimsthal (today Jáchymov, Czech Republic), where he eventually preached a sermon series on Luther’s life. Anton Lauterbach (1502–1569), who recorded the April 5, 1538 Table Talk above, also studied under Luther and sat at his table. He served as a deacon in Leisnig from 1533 to 1536, as a deacon in Wittenberg from 1537 to 1539, and then as a pastor in Pirna from 1539 until his death.

When one compares the accounts above, one notices striking agreement on the whole, even if there are some noticeable discrepancies in the particulars. (Many of Luther’s friends had not traveled like he had, and none of them had access to Google Maps.) For instance, even though several of Luther’s friends were mistaken in the identity of his second traveling companion (the one besides Amsdorf), they are generally agreed that this companion was the first to notice Luther’s captors approaching. They also agree on the location of the capture, even though different reference points are used. (All of these descriptions support the current marker identifying the spot of Luther’s capture at the site of the former Luther Beech Tree.) Violence and threats were clearly used in extracting Luther from the wagon, and it appears that the anonymous driver bore the brunt of it. Luther clearly did take somewhat risky trips to cities and monasteries in the area after he had grown out his hair and beard, took enjoyment in conversing incognito about religious matters related to his reformation, and was once nearly recognized by a monk, though there is disagreement on the location. Between his stand at the Diet of Worms and his capture and confinement at the Wartburg all by themselves, one can readily understand why Luther’s life continues to fascinate historians—both Christian and non, both serious and casual.

As for Luther’s poltergeists and apparitions, while we would be foolish to discount the possibility that some of these phenomena had physical causes, we would be far more foolish to discount the possibility of real encounters with the devil and his demons. About two decades ago, Prof. (now Dr.) Mark Paustian wrote (More Prepared to Answer [Milwaukee: Northwestern, 2004], 87–88):

I once sat through a long night with a young woman who was literally paralyzed with fear of the the “man” that came to her every night, whispering, “Stay away from those Christians. You’re mine.” Unable to speak, trembling, barely able to move for the fright, she would jump and shriek as if she was being prodded and poked. I’ve heard similar accounts from people I know well… This from level-headed people who know what psychosis is, and what it isn’t.

More recently, Prof. E. Allen Sorum writes in 2000 Demons: No Match for My Savior (2016) about the all-too-real world of evil spirits and demon possession—today, not just back in so-called primitive times. When we consider how the devil has worked throughout history, and then remember in addition the spiritually and religiously critical time in which Luther lived, and the crucial role God had him play in it, the stories above should hardly surprise us.

A side note for history teachers, whether Lutheran or not: We need to stop calling the disguised Martin Luther “Knight George.” He was never disguised or treated as a knight. He was called “Junker Jörg or Georg.” A Junker is a squire, a young nobleman acting as an attendant to a knight before becoming a knight himself. The word for knight in German is Ritter, or sometimes Reuter or Reutersmann (though these latter terms are also used more generally for any horseman), but never Junker.

For more pictures related to this event in Luther’s life, see here.

As this Luther Capture anniversary year draws to a close and the celebration of the birth of our Savior approaches, may Christ keep all of us safe from the devil in the fortress of his manger, of his Word, of his cross, of his baptism, of his grace, of his daily presence and care.

Sources (Listed in Order of Appearance)

  • Weimarer Ausgabe Briefwechsel 2:337–38.
  • Ibid. 2:334–35.
  • Weimarer Ausgabe Tischreden 5:82, no. 5353.
  • Ibid. 5:87–88, no. 5358b.
  • Ibid. 5:103–104, no. 5375d.
  • Ibid. 3:634–35, no. 3814.
  • Myconius, Friedrich. Historia Reformationis, vom Jahr Christi 1517. bis 1542. Aus des Autoris autographo mitgetheilet. Edited by Ernst Salomon Cyprian. Leipzig: Moritz George Weidmann, 1718. Pages 40–43.
  • Ratzeberger, Matthäus. Die handschriftliche Geschichte Ratzeberger’s über Luther und seine Zeit. Edited by Christian Gotthold Neudecker. Jena: Friedrich Mauke, 1850. Pages 52–54.
  • Spalatin, Georg. Annales Reformationis Oder Jahr-Bücher von der Reformation Lutheri, aus dessen Autographo ans Licht gestellt. Edited by Ernst Salomon Cyprian. Leipzig: Johann Ludwig Gleditsch and Moritz Georg Weidmann, 1718. Pages 50–51.
  • Mathesius, Johannes. Historien / Von des Ehrwirdigen in Gott Seligen thewren Manns Gottes / Doctoris Martini Luthers / Anfang / lehr / leben und sterben. Nuremberg, 1566. Folios 29 recto–31 verso, 33 verso–34 recto.

Endnotes

1 Eichhof Castle, about two miles southwest of the Bad Hersfeld city wall.

2 Latin: mane quinta. Some scholars (including the American Edition translator) have taken this phrase to mean “on the fifth morning [after departing from Worms],” namely Wednesday, May 1, 1521. But when mane is used as a substantive with an adjective, it is treated as a neuter noun; “on the fifth morning” would therefore be mane quinto. Mane quinta is literally “in the morning at the fifth [hour].” (The German St. Louis Edition translates it correctly.) According to Martin Brecht, Luther actually preached this sermon on Thursday, May 2, which would be the sixth morning after his departure (Martin Luther: His Road to Reformation (1483–1521) [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993], 472).

3 On Friday morning, May 3, at St. George’s Church.

4 Luther resumes talking about his stay in Bad Hersfeld. He is picking up with what happened after he preached his early morning sermon on Thursday, May 2.

5 Friday morning, May 3, presumably after Luther preached.

6 In Eisenach, Justus Jonas, Peter Swawe (a Pomeranian nobleman), and Jerome Schurff left him.

7 According to a footnote in the St. Louis Edition and local tradition, Luther spent Friday night in Möhra, about twelve miles south of Eisenach, in the home of his uncle, Heinz Luther. There he preached in the town plaza on Saturday morning.

8 Latin: Frater meus. Luther is referring to Johannes Petzensteiner, his brother Augustinian, but throughout the years some have misinterpreted this to mean that Luther’s blood-brother Jacob was accompanying him.

9 Luther appears to be referring to the pope here.

10 Duke Georg of Saxony, one of Luther’s worst enemies.

11 Luther suffered badly from constipation while at the Wartburg. He penned this sentence in German.

12 Luther is using this phrase in the Hebrew and biblical sense of God bringing special blessing or discipline upon a person (here clearly the latter).

13 Presumably Luther is referring to Amsdorf, Johannes Petzensteiner, and the driver of the wagon.

14 Luther seems to be indicating here that he is already planning to write Spalatin a response letter around this same time (see the date of the preceding excerpt), and to send it with the letter from Spalatin to which he would be responding, so as to avoid the possibility of someone noticing any of his correspondence at the Wartburg, which would betray his identity.

15 The “he” appears to refer to the elector, since Spalatin himself says he was aware of the capture plans. (See his account later in this post.)

16 The Latin word nemus, borrowed from the Greek νέμος, denotes a wood with open glades, meadows, and pasture-land for cattle. According to the Grimm Brothers’ Deutsches Wörterbuch, the German equivalents are Hain, “grove,” and Lustwald, a wooded area that can be strolled through for pleasure (versus a thickly-wooded forest).

17 The Latin notes simply have Luther saying, “he saw,” but in the context, the “he” clearly has to be a traveling companion who is neither Amsdorf nor the driver, which only leaves Luther’s brother monk, Johannes Petzensteiner. One of the variants reads, “Pezenius saw,” which doubtless refers to Petzensteiner.

18 Namely, that Martin Luther is one of his passengers.

19 Latin: Tamen sumus in vestra potestate! Lit.: “Nevertheless, we are in your power!” The tamen here seems to indicate Amsdorf’s transition from pretending to complain and resist to pretending to give up in the face of threats and superior strength.

20 See also “Luther in Disguise” and Mathesius’s account of Luther’s secret travels later in this post.

21 There are several variant spellings—Sternbach, Steinburg, and Sterpach. The Weimar Edition editor suggests that Hans von Sternberg might be meant, who later served as a guardian at the Coburg Fortress. But see also n. 38.

22 Between the variant readings here and the other accounts where only one servant of Luther is mentioned, it seems that there might be some confusion here between the two servants who assisted the noblemen in capturing Luther (thus adding up to four horsemen) and the servant or servants Luther was later assigned.

23 “The hell” refers to the narrow space behind the stove between it and the wall, which could get very hot.

24 This “his” seems to mean “man[kind]’s” rather than God’s or Christ’s feet. Even though Martin Luther did interpret Psalm 8 as a Messianic psalm, he also understood verse 6 as being equally valid for humans who believe in Christ, since they share in Christ’s power, rule, and blessings.

25 Myconius either means Weisenau near Mainz, or he got his -burg/-berg wrong and is referring to Friedberg, where Luther did write a confession and protestation and send it back to the diet with the imperial herald. Either way, there was no Weißenburg along or near the route Luther took from Worms.

26 Justus Jonas did accompany Luther as far as Eisenach, but he and two others parted ways with Luther there, since Luther went south from there to visit relatives in Möhra with Amsdorf and Petzensteiner. These two and the driver were the only ones in the wagon with Luther when he was taken captive. Amsdorf accompanied him as a friend who was in the know about the capture and could therefore help to deceive the driver into thinking it was a genuine capture. Petzensteiner, a fellow Augustinian, accompanied him unawares. Augustinian friars were required to travel in pairs, and even though Luther had been formally released from his vows in 1518, Luther was still voluntarily following this rule.

27 Schosser could also mean “treasurer.”

28 That is, Johannes Bugenhagen.

29 Based on this information, it seems that Myconius was a year off in his recollection. We know that Martin Luther, Friedrich Myconius, Justus Jonas, and Johannes Bugenhagen were all present together in Gotha at the beginning of March 1537. Luther was recovering there after returning prematurely from Schmalkalden due to trouble with kidney stones (Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: The Preservation of the Church (1532–1546) [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999], 186–88).

30 Ratzeberger is mistaken about Myconius. Augustinian friar Johannes Petzensteiner was Luther’s other traveling companion.

31 The context makes clear that this squire is separate from the horseman already mentioned. Perhaps Ratzeberger calls him the squire a) in the sense of “his squire,” that is, the already-mentioned horseman’s attendant, b) because the squire had been specifically arranged for, c) because Ratzeberger knew who he was, or d) because he was a familiar character due to the number of times Luther or his friends had told the story.

32 German: unter den gaul. Ratzeberger already used Gaul to describe the horseman’s steed, but Gaul can also be used for a cart horse. So the horseman may have knocked the driver down on the ground beneath his own (the horseman’s) steed, or he may have knocked him down beneath the horse that was pulling the wagon.

33 Short, thick arrow used in a crossbow.

34 I am reading die senne or die sehne for die seine.

35 Spalatin misspells it Berlewisch.

36 Spalatin is speaking anachronistically here. Duke Johann was not an elector at the time, but would become one after his brother Frederick’s death.

37 I was unable to discover anything more about these two men.

38 Obadiah actually hid a hundred prophets in two caves, fifty in each (1 Kings 18:3–4).

39 Some scholars identify this as Burkhard Hund von Wenkheim, who occupied the Altenstein Palace as a fief. But see n. 21 above.

40 Most likely a misspelled reference to Hans von Berlepsch, the captain and steward of the Wartburg Castle at the time.

41 German: in der Creutzwochen, that is, during the sixth week of Easter, the week in which Ascension fell. The German name alludes to the fact that special processions (led by a processional cross) were made during that week. The English name alludes to the fact that special prayers were said (Latin rogatio = “petition, request”). Luther arrived at the Wartburg on Saturday, May 4, around 11 p.m., which could be considered part of Rogation Sunday, and therefore also Rogation week, when you keep in mind that, from a liturgical standpoint, every holy day begins at sunset on the previous day.

42 Mathesius seems to be referring to Luther here, even though he has just given the impression that Luther entered the Wartburg disguised as a horseman and someone else was made out to be a prisoner.

43 See Luther’s Works (hereafter LW) 48:232, part of a letter he wrote to Melanchthon on May 26, 1521.

44 See the excerpt from Luther’s May 12, 1521 letter to Amsdorf above.

45 Mathesius seems to be referring to LW 48:255, part of a letter Luther wrote to Spalatin on June 10, 1521. But see also 48:307, part of another letter he wrote to Spalatin on Sept. 9, 1521.

46 Dr. Georg Loesche said this refers to Martschall, north of Eisenach, but I can neither locate nor find another reference to any such place. Dr. Georg Buchwald misprinted it (and misread it?) as Wartsal and said that the location could not be identified with certainty.

47 Namely, at the Benedictine Abbey there. A lay brother was an unordained member of a monastic order.

48 Compare this to the Table Talk “Luther in Disguise” above.

Luther’s Prayer in Worms

Diet of Worms (1557 woodcut)

This woodcut by an anonymous artist is one of the earliest artistic depictions (though not the earliest) of Martin Luther’s famous stand at the Diet of Worms. It was printed in volume 4 of Dr. Ludwig Rabus’s Historien der Heyligen Außerwölten Gottes Zeügen / Bekennern vnd Martyrern (Historical Accounts of the Holy Witnesses, Confessors, and Martyrs Chosen by God; Strasbourg: Samuel Emmel, 1557), fol. 70 verso. Rabus was born in 1524 and had studied under Luther at the University of Wittenberg. This scene captures the events of both April 17 and 18, 1521. Jerome Schurff, the lawyer standing on Luther’s left on the left side of the woodcut, says, “Intitulentur libri [Let the titles of the books be read].” Luther himself says, “Hie stehe ich. Ich kan nicht anders. Got helffe mir. Amen. [Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.]” The princes are represented on the right side of the woodcut, beneath the bullseye glass window; the ecclesiastical leaders are along the back wall. Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, depicted as an older man (he was actually only twenty-one), is seated prominently in the corner against the Holy Roman Empire’s coat of arms.

Translator’s Preface

On Thursday, April 18, 1521, Dr. Conrad Peutinger, city clerk and representative of the city of Augsburg, went to see Martin Luther in Worms. “Before the hearing, I visited him in his courtyard. He cheerfully said to me among other things, ‘Dear Doctor, how are your wife and child doing?’ I could not detect or see in him anything but a man in good spirits.”1

Luther’s good spirits prior to one of the most momentous occasions of his life, if not the most momentous, underscores, among other things, the time he must have been spending in prayer and meditation on God’s word. We actually possess a prayer that Luther supposedly said during his stay in Worms, which was allegedly “copied down by those who heard him say it.”

Joannes Aurifaber (1519–1575) was only two years old in 1521, but he eventually studied under Luther and became a zealous Luther collector. Although Aurifaber’s publications, especially of Luther’s Table Talk, are not the most reliable due to his liberal editing, he nevertheless remains an important link in the transmission of Luther’s words and writings. In 1564 he had a book of Luther’s works published in Eisleben—a collection of “books, writings, and sermons” which in large part had not appeared either in the Wittenberg or Jena Editions of Luther’s works. The book included a prayer that Luther supposedly said while in Worms. Aurifaber claimed that this prayer had even been previously published—though we are not aware of when or where—and that it was shared with him by Johannes Flinner (1520–1578), a preacher in Strasbourg, along with some other writings of Luther.

The prayer’s legitimacy will probably always be able to be called into doubt. But its content certainly fits Luther’s situation on April 18, and it wouldn’t be the only time people eavesdropped on and took note of Luther’s bold and earnest praying. (See here for one example. Veit Dietrich also recorded Luther’s praying when the two were at the Coburg Fortress in 1530.)

I present a fresh translation of Luther’s prayer here, to the glory of the triune God, in the last month of this 500th anniversary year of Luther’s bold stand before the imperial diet at Worms.

Luther’s Prayer in Worms

Almighty, eternal God, how the world is all the same!2 How it leaves the people standing there gaping! How poor and small is humans’ trust in God! How very weak and frail is the flesh, and how very powerful and active the devil is through his apostles and those who are wise in the world’s eyes! How very quickly the world withdraws its hand and goes buzzing away, runs down the popular path and the broad road to hell, where the godless belong, and is always just looking merely at what is glamorous and powerful, great and mighty, and has a reputation. If I, too, were to turn my eyes in that direction, it would be all over for me; the bell would already be cast and the sentence would be passed.3

Oh, God! Oh, God! O my God, my God, I need you to stand by my side against all the world’s intelligence and wisdom. Do it, you must do it, you alone. This is not really my cause, but yours. I really don’t have anything that concerns my person here; I have no business with these great lords of the world. I, too, would really prefer to have good, peaceful days and to be undisturbed. No, the cause is yours, Lord, and it is a righteous and eternal one. Just stand by my side, you faithful and eternal God. I will not rely on any man. That would be vain and useless. Everything limps that is fleshly and that smacks of the flesh.

O God, O God! Aren’t you listening, my God? Are you dead? No, you cannot die; you are just concealing yourself. Have you chosen me for this? I ask you, even as I know it for certain. Okay, then take charge of it, God, for never in my life did I dream that I would oppose such great lords, nor has it ever been my intent. So then, God, stand by my side, in the name of your dear Son, Jesus Christ, who shall be my protection and shelter, yes, my strong fortress [feste Burg],4 through the power and strengthening of your Holy Spirit.

Lord, where are you lingering? O my God, where are you? Come, come, I am prepared even to give up my life for this, as meekly as a lamb, for the cause is righteous and is yours. So I refuse to separate myself from you into all eternity. Let me make this resolution in your name. The world must indeed leave me unconstrained with regard to my conscience. And if it were even more full of devils, and if my body, which is first and foremost your handiwork and creation, should be destroyed and go to pieces, your Word and Spirit are compensation enough for that. Plus, this is only a matter of the body; the soul is yours and belongs to you and also endures with you eternally. Amen. God help me. Amen.

Source

Aurifaber, Joannes, ed. Der Erste Theil Der Bücher / Schrifften / und Predigten des Ehrwirdigen Herrn / D. Martin Luthers deren viel weder in den Wittenbergischen noch Jhenischen Tomis zufinden. Eisleben: Urban Gaubisch, 1564. Folios 42 recto–43 recto. (Cf. Ewald M. Plass, ed., What Luther Says: A Practical In-Home Anthology for the Active Christian [St. Louis: Concordia, 1959], 1107–8, no. 3539.)

Endnotes

1 Adolf Wrede, ed., Deutsche Reichstagsakten unter Kaiser Karl V., vol. 2 (Gotha: Friedrich Andreas Perthes, 1896), 862.

2 German: Wie ist es nur ein ding umb die Welt, lit., “How it is just one thing with the world.” This is a colloquial expression and difficult to translate. The idea seems to be either that the people of the world are all the same in their unbelief and worldly pursuits, or that they are completely indifferent when it comes to divine matters and the truth (it’s all “just one thing” or all the same to them).

3 “The bell would be cast” is an archaic expression similar to our “the die would be cast.” Alternatively, these two phrases might be a separate sentence, expressing Luther’s reflection on his situation: “The bell is already cast and the sentence has been passed.” In that case, it should be the first sentence in the next paragraph.

4 I could imagine someone seizing on this phrase to disprove the authenticity of this prayer, since Luther didn’t write his famous hymn, “Ein Feste Burg [A Mighty Fortress],” until the late 1520s, and its usage in his other writings also seems to be limited to the late 1520s and early 1530s. But this is an inconclusive argument, since one could just as easily make the argument that this prayer is evidence that Luther already thought of God and his promises in this type of language much earlier, and that the wording of his famous hymn traces back here, rather than the other way around.

Elector Frederick’s Dream

Frederick's Dream 1617 (engraving)

Conrad Grahle, Göttlicher, Schriftmessiger, woldennckwürdiger Traum Welchen…Churfürst Friederich Zusachsen…gehabt, 1617, copperplate engraving. See the translation of Elector Frederick’s dream and the “Brief Description of the Engraving” below for more details.

Translator’s Introduction

The 1885 Reformation sermon by Georg Stöckhardt (1842–1913) first acquainted me, in my college days, with the famous dream ascribed to Elector Frederick the Wise of Saxony (1463–1525).1 I recalled that reference when preparing a previous post and dug a little deeper into the sources. As I have done more and more Reformation reading, I keep returning to this dream, poorly attested as it is, as a more plausible explanation for the elector’s actions, or lack thereof, with respect to Martin Luther than any of the political explanations I’ve read thus far—assuming that a given author even attempts to provide any. Some act of special, divine intervention is almost required in order to understand why this otherwise loyal Catholic prince went out of his way to protect a subject who caused him so many headaches.2 Certain circumstances recently led me to delve more deeply into this dream and the history of its transmission, and to translate it in its entirety.

Elector Frederick’s dream is indeed not that well attested, assuming that the research that has been done on it so far is at least somewhat complete. (And I must confess that I have not read all of that research.3) There is, however, an alleged chain of transmission that we can follow. The earliest manuscript of the dream, held by the Saxon State and University Library of Dresden, is written in the hand of David Krautvogel (1529–1601), superintendent of Freiberg. He or someone else—I have not seen the manuscript, and thus have not examined and compared the handwriting—writes at the end of the manuscript that, on November 1, 1591, Krautvogel copied the content from a manuscript written in the hand of Anton Musa (c. 1485–1547), the former superintendent of Rochlitz.4 At some point after Krautvogel’s passing in 1601, his copy apparently got into the hands of Peter Kirchbach (1590–1638), a minister in Freiberg. Kirchbach was responsible for having Conrad Grahle turn the dream into an engraving to celebrate the centennial of the Reformation in 1617.5

But since Musa was more than forty years deceased by 1591, how was Krautvogel able to copy it? The 1699 version that I share below begins by saying that Musa’s manuscript was in the possession of Bartholomaeus Schönbach (1532–1595), a minister of the gospel who had been born in Rochlitz and was serving in Joachimsthal6 in 1591. According to Peter Marschall, Krautvogel found himself stationed in Joachimsthal in 1591 after he had been temporarily removed from his position in Freiberg by the Calvinists, thus enabling him to borrow Musa’s manuscript from Schönbach.7

According to Krautvogel’s copy, Anton Musa heard the story of the dream orally recounted to him by Georg Spalatin (1484–1545), who had been Elector Frederick the Wise’s secretary and had heard the dream recounted to him by the elector himself. It has been noted that Spalatin did not include anything about the dream in his Reformation annals. But it also must be noted (and usually is not) that Spalatin’s annals begin with the year 1518, the year after the elector supposedly had his famous dream.8

A stronger argument against the story’s authenticity is the fact that Anton Musa left Rochlitz for Merseburg in 1544, when Bartholmaeus Schönbach was only about twelve years old. It seems improbable for Musa to have left such a valuable manuscript in the possession of a boy. But of course there is no documented claim that he did. We simply know that Schönbach possessed the manuscript in 1591. There certainly could have been another link or other as-yet-unknown details in the chain of transmission between Musa and Schönbach. However, it is also curious, at best, that neither Luther nor Melanchthon, both in close contact with Spalatin, make any mention of the elector’s dream. Yet this silence does not prove anything either.

So the alleged chain of transmission, from dream to earliest manuscript (*) to engraving, goes: Elector Frederick the Wise—Georg Spalatin (Schweinitz, 1517)—Anton Musa (unknown place, appar. before 1544)—(unknown person in Rochlitz?)—Bartholomaeus Schönbach (appar. Rochlitz, unknown year)—*David Krautvogel (Joachimsthal, 1591)—(unknown person in Freiberg?)—Peter Kirchbach (Freiberg, before October 1617).

If I myself were to seriously undertake to verify the dream, I would start by checking archival records to learn, if possible, whether Elector Frederick and his brother Duke Johann did in fact stay in Schweinitz Castle the night of October 30, 1517, and if so, how usual that was (especially so close to the Feast of All Saints). That alone could go a long way in verifying the story’s truthfulness, since not many people besides Spalatin could have or would have known that fact, and Spalatin was an otherwise reliable, conscientious Christian.

Even if Elector Frederick did not have this dream, the tale remains not only an interesting story, but also an extremely clever allegory and metaphor for the effect of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses. Plus, the dream’s artistic depictions in particular remind us of the power and impact of published words and ideas, especially when those words and ideas tap into, and are drawn from, the truth.

I present this translation as a special encouragement to all those Christians engaged in writing and publishing, to the glory of the triune God, the God of our full and free salvation.

Elector Frederick the Wise’s Dream

In 1591 Master Bartholomaeus Schönbach, a minister of the Church who had been born in Rochlitz, was living in Joachimsthal.9 He had a manuscript of Master Anton Musa’s, formerly the superintendent of Rochlitz, in which he had recorded the dream that Elector Frederick of Saxony had in Schweinitz10 about Luther, as recounted orally by Dr. Georg Spalatin. The content, word for word, is as follows:

The estimable gentleman, Georg Spalatin, reliably recounted to me, Anton Musa, a dream that Duke Frederick, Elector of Saxony, had in Schweinitz the night before Dr. Martin Luther posted his propositions in Wittenberg for public debate—namely, his first propositions against the pope and Johann Tetzel’s two sermons on Romish grace and indulgences. His Electoral Grace described this dream to him early the next morning for later recollection. He also related it to his lord brother, Duke Johann of Saxony, in the presence of the chancellor. He said, “Lord brother, I must tell Your Dearness11 what I dreamed last night, and I would very much like to know its meaning. For I noted it so accurately and so well and it made such a deep impression on me that I don’t think I could forget it even if I lived to be a thousand years old, since it appeared to me three times in a row, though in improved form each time.”

Duke Johann asked, “So was it a good dream or a bad one?”

“We don’t know; only God does,” said the elector.

Duke Johann inquired further: “Your Dearness should not put too much stock in it. Whenever I have a dream, I always ask our Lord God to work it out for the best, or I do my best to forget about it, although I must also confess that many dreams have appeared to me, both good and bad, that I did not understand until later, but usually in bad cases. But Your Dearness should please say what the dream was.”

Elector Frederick said, “I will tell Your Dearness. When I went to bed in the evening, fairly tired and weary, I soon fell asleep as I was saying my prayers, and I slept nice and peacefully for nearly two and a half hours. Then I woke up and was pretty awake. I lay there and was thinking about all sorts of things until after midnight. Among other things, I was thinking about how I was going to honor all the dear saints, and besides myself, how my princely household was going to honor them. I also prayed for the dear souls in purgatory and resolved that I would come to their aid in their pain. I therefore asked God for his grace, that he would please guide me and my councilors and provincial representatives in genuine truth and help us to salvation, and that in his omnipotence he would restrain all wicked scoundrels who embitter the work of governing for us. After midnight I fell back asleep soon after these thoughts.

“Then I dreamed that the almighty God was sending a monk to me with a nice, honest face, who was the natural son of St. Paul, the dear apostle. He was accompanied, at God’s command, by all the dear saints, who were supposed to vouch for the monk before me that there was no deceit in him, but that he was truly an ambassador of God. God told them to instruct me to allow the monk to write something for me on my Castle Church in Wittenberg; I would not regret it. So I sent him word through the chancellor, saying that since God was telling me to do this, and since he was so powerfully vouched for, he could write what had been entrusted to him. Then the monk started to write, and his writing was so large that I could make it out here in Schweinitz. He was also using such a long quill pen that the back part of it reached all the way to Rome, and its shaft stabbed a lion who was lying in Rome in one of his ears, so that the shaft came back out through his other ear. The quill extended further all the way to the Papal Holiness’s tiara, and it knocked against it so hard that it began to wobble and was about to fall from His Holiness’s head. So as it was falling—I think I and Your Dearness were not standing too far away—I reached out my hand and tried to help steady it. Right when I was quickly grabbing hold of it, I woke up, and I was still holding my arm in the air.

Frederick the Wise’s Dream by Muyckens

Jan Barentszoon Muyckens, The Dream of Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony, 1643, oil on panel. Muyckens (1595–1665) was a Dutch artist who lived and worked in Amsterdam. He was the son of a monk who had converted to the Lutheran faith around 1580. He based this painting on the Reformation centennial artworks (see Select Annotated Bibliography).

“I was completely terrified and at the same time angry at the monk for not exercising more restraint with his pen when writing. But when I came to my senses and realized it was a dream, I was still very sleepy and soon closed my eyes again and was once again fast asleep. Before I knew what was happening, this dream appeared to me again,12 for I was dealing with that monk again, and I watched him as he kept on writing and continued stabbing at the lion in Rome with the shaft of his quill, and through the lion at the pope, which caused the lion to roar so dreadfully that the entire city of Rome and all the estates of the Holy Roman Empire came running to see what was going on. And then the Papal Holiness demanded of the estates that the monk be restrained, and especially that I be informed of this outrage. In the middle of that, I woke up for the second time.

“I was astonished that the dream had reoccurred, but I refused to let any of it trouble me so badly. I prayed that God would guard the Papal Holiness from all evil and thus I fell back asleep for the third time. Then the monk reappeared to me for the third time, and we tried very hard to snap this monk’s quill and to lead the pope away. But the more we tried to get at the quill, the more rigid it became and the more it rattled about, so that my ears hurt. We all finally grew so dismayed and tired from it that we gave up and everyone gradually dispersed, and we were worried that the monk might know how to do more than eat bread; he might cause us some sort of harm. Nevertheless I had someone ask the monk (for at one moment I was in Rome, in Wittenberg the next) how he had come into the possession of such a feather, and how it happened to be so tough and firm? He relayed to me that it was from an old, hundred-year-old Bohemian goose.13 One of his old schoolteachers had presented it to him as a gift and has asked him, since it was a very good quill, to keep and use it in his memory. He had also tempered it himself.14 But the reason it lasted so long and was so firm was that neither its mind nor its soul could be removed, as is done with other quills—something that never ceased to amaze himself either.

“Soon after that, another clamor breaks out. Many countless other quills had grown out of the monk’s long quill here in Wittenberg, and it was entertaining to watch as many scholars were scrambling to get them, with some of them thinking that these fresh, new quills would in time become just as large and long as this monk’s quill, and that something special would certainly happen as a result of this monk and his long quill. When I had now fully made up my mind in my dream to converse with the monk in person, and the sooner, the better, I finally woke up for the third time, and morning had now arrived.

“I puzzled a lot over my dream. I thought back on it, and it really struck me how it had appeared to me time after time, and soon I jotted down the most prominent features for later recollection. I am entirely of the opinion that this dream was not without meaning, since it appeared to me so often, and I am almost of a mind to reveal it to my father confessor. But I have also let Your Dearness know about it. Your Dearness and the chancellor should tell me your opinion on it.”

Duke Johann said, “Mr. Chancellor, what do you think? There is not always a lot to take away from dreams, yet they also should not be completely discarded. If we had a pious, discerning Joseph or Daniel here, he could divine its meaning.”

The chancellor said, “Your Electoral Grace knows how the saying goes: The dreams of virgins, scholars, and great lords usually have a hidden meaning. But one doesn’t become aware of what it is until they make themselves known after some time, when affairs might take place from which one can then take a guess. Then a person says, ‘See, that’s certainly what that dream was pointing to,’ as Your Electoral Grace is certainly acquainted with many such examples. Joseph says, ‘Interpreting dreams belongs to God alone’ [Gen. 40:8; 41:16], and Daniel says, ‘Only God in heaven can reveal hidden things’ [Dan. 2:27–28]. Therefore Your Dearness and Your Electoral Grace should simply commit this dream to our dear God. The monks have often created a lot of trouble for great lords. With this dream about monks, the best part is that he was sent by God, unless the devil was trying to play his own game behind a good appearance. Your Electoral Grace will know best how to reflect on these matters in a Christian manner, along with devout prayer.”

Duke Johann said, “I’m with you, Mr. Chancellor, for it is not respectable for us to fret and torture ourselves over it for a long time. If this dream comes from God, he will know how to work it all out for the best and to communicate its true meaning to us at the proper time, or if it means something bad, he will know how to negate it.”

The elector said, “May our faithful God do that, only I hope I don’t forget the dream in the meantime. I do have my own ideas and interpretation, but I will keep them to myself for the time being, though I will write them down. Time may eventually tell whether I have divined correctly, and one of these days we will talk about this with each other once again.”

Brief Description of the Engraving

On the left, a monk (labeled “D. M. L.” for Doctor Martin Luther) writes something about indulgences (“vom ablas”) on a door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. Other theologians, including Philipp Melanchthon (“Phil. M.”), gather the quills growing and falling out of the monk’s quill. The monk’s quill reaches all the way to Rome, going through the ears of a lion (representing Pope Leo X; leo is Latin for lion) and threatening to knock the tiara from the pope’s head. Elector Frederick, Duke Johann, and others try to steady the tiara. In the middle foreground, a goose (labeled “Johann Huss”) is being roasted, alluding to Hus’s being burned at the stake in 1415 (1416 erroneously given). One man appears to be pulling a quill feather from the goose, while another tempers one he has already removed. In the upper right, the elector sleeps in his canopied chamber in Schweinitz. Beneath his bed, the saints vouch for the monk to the elector. The monk holds the Bible in front of the elector, opened to Isaiah 8:20. The monk is also sitting to the left of the saints, reading Paul’s letter to the Romans and receiving divine assistance to understand it. Beneath the clouds on the left, Johann Tetzel preaches indulgences to a crowd. To the left of him, a Romanist crowd tries to break a tie holding two groves together, apparently illustrating how the Romanist camp has divided the church by forsaking the truth (Isaiah 49:17 and Psalm 2:3 are cited to describe the scene).

Select Annotated Bibliography

  • 1617 engraving by Conrad Grahle. https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/P_1914-0209-20. (Full title: Gottlicher, Schriftmessiger, woldennckwürdiger Traum Welchen der Hochlöbliche, Gottselige Churfürst Friederich Zusachsen etc. Der Weise genand, auss sonder offenbarung Gottes, gleich itzo für 100. Jahren nemlich, die Nacht für allerheilig Abend, 1517. zur Schweinitz, 3 mal nacheinand gehabt, alß folgenden tages D. Martin Luther seine Sprüche wieder Johann Tetzels Ablaßkrämerey, an der Schlosskirch thür zu Wittenberg angeschlag. Allen itzo Jubilirenden Christen nützlich zu wissenn, in diesem Kupferstücke eigendtlich fürgebildet. Translation: Godly, scriptural, truly noteworthy dream which the highly laudable, devout Frederick, Elector of Saxony, etc., surnamed the Wise, had in Schweinitz three times in succession exactly one hundred years ago, namely the night before All Saints’ Eve, 1517, by special revelation from God, when Dr. Martin Luther posted his statements against Johann Tetzel’s indulgence peddling on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg the following day. Accurately portrayed in this copperplate engraving for the edification of all Christians who are celebrating the current centennial.)
  • 1617 woodcut by S. S. S., apparently based on Grahle’s engraving. https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/P_1880-0710-299. The “Curator’s Comments” there are mistaken, however, in the claim that the chronogram gives a date of 1568. It’s just that the printer inadvertently neglected to capitalize the L in “EVangelIsChen.” When it is capitalized, it produces a date of 1618. But since the chronogram says, “Right on the first real Evangelical Lutheran Jubilee,” that may indicate that the I was supposed to be omitted from “EVangelIsChen,” so that it should have read, “EVangeLsChen” (note how “LVthersCchen” [sic] also omits the I). If both “evangel’schen” and “luther’schen” had been thus abbreviated, the chronogram would have yielded the date 1617.
  • Gräße, Johann Georg Theodor. Der Sagenschatz des Königreichs Sachsen. Dresden: G. Schönfeld’s Buchhandlung, 1855. Pages 29–32. Transcribed, in updated language, from Lehmann’s work.
  • Hoenegg, Matthias Hoë von. Christliches Geburt und Lobgedächtnis Des Hocherleuchten / Thewren / Werthen Mannes Gottes / Herren D. Martini Lutheri seeliger / der Christenheit getrewen Apostels und Evangelisten. Leipzig: Frantz Schnelboltzen’s Heirs, 1604. According to Marshall, this was the first published work that mentioned Elector Frederick’s dream.
  • Köstlin, Julius. Martin Luther: Sein Leben und seine Schriften. Volume 1. Elberfeld: R. L. Friderichs, 1875. Pages 784–85, n. 177. Köstlin is doubtful of the dream’s legitimacy, but the earliest manuscript that he and a Weimar librarian he consulted were aware of was an eighteenth century copy of Krautvogel’s copy of Musa’s manuscript.
  • Lehmann, Christian. Historischer Schauplatz derer natürlichen Merckwürdigkeiten in dem Meißnischen Ober-Ertzgebirge. Leipzig: Friedrich Lanckisch’s Heirs, 1699. Pages 809–814. This was the source for my translation.
  • Marshall, Peter. 1517: Martin Luther and the Invention of the Reformation. Oxford University Press, 2017. Pages 82–86. Although this book presents some useful information, especially on this topic, Marschall’s writing is noticeably biased, as evidenced already from the title.
  • Olearius, Johann. Die Wunderliche Güte Des Allerhöchsten. Leipzig: Johann Wittigau, 1662. Pages 173–82. This edition of the dream was apparently copied from Rothe’s work.
  • Rothe, Caspar. Gloria Lutheri, Das ist: Ruhm und Ehrenpreiß des thewren werthen Mannes Lutheri &c. Leipzig: Christoph Ellinger, 1619. Pages 1–6. This edition begins: “‘Lord brother,’ said the elector, ‘I must tell what I dreamed last night.’” Also, in introducing the dream, Rothe adds confusion by dating the dream to the night of October 31. This seems to stem from his understanding that Luther posted his theses on November 1.
  • Schmidt, Ludwig, ed. Katalog der Handschriften der Königl. Öffentlichen Bibliothek zu Dresden. Vol. 3. Leipzig: B. G. Teubner, 1906. Pages 313 (Bl. 38–43) & 443 (Bl. 428–434).
  • Walther, Johann. Tempe Historica Das ist Historischer Lust- und Schau-platz. Jena: Gottfried Mintzel, 1669. Pages 424–31. Copied from an earlier source with no introduction.

Endnotes

1 Georg Stöckhardt, Gnade um Gnade (Milwaukee: Northwestern, 1914), 560.

2 Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: His Road to Reformation (1483–1521) (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 455–56.

3 For instance, I have not read Hans Volz’s article, “Der Traum Kurfurst Friedrichs des Weisen vom 30./31. Oktober 1517: Eine bibliographisch-ikonographische Untersuchung,” in Gutenberg Jahrbuch 45 (1970) 174–211.

4 Schmidt, ed., Katalog, 313; cf. p. 443.

5 Robert Naumann, ed., Serapeum: Zeitschrift für Bibliothekwissenschaft, Handschriftenkunde und ältere Literatur 29, no. 14 (July 31, 1868) 223–24. See also the “M. P. K.” in the dedication box in the lower right of the engraving at the head of this post.

6 A populous mining town in the Kingdom of Bohemia (modern-day Jáchymov, Czech Republic), this Joachimsthal is not to be confused with the Joachimsthal in the German state of Brandenburg, which was not officially founded until 1604.

7 Marschall, 1517, 84.

8 Georg Spalatin, Annales Reformationis, edited by Ernst Salomon Cyprian (Leipzig, 1718), 1.

9 See n. 5 above.

10 Schweinitz Castle was less than twenty miles east of Wittenberg.

11 Euer Liebe was a common way for important personages to address each other politely.

12 Alternative translation: “…and was once again fast asleep before I realized it. Then this dream appeared to me again…”

13 An allusion to the reformer Jan Hus (c. 1372–1415), who had died about a hundred years earlier. Hus means goose in Czech.

14 It is unclear whether the “he” here refers to the schoolteacher or the monk. “Tempering” is the process by which one prepares a quill for cutting by making the calamus flexible and cleaning the membrane off of it.

The Official Beer of Luther’s Stand at the Diet of Worms

The Einbecker beer website claims that “when Duke Erich handed Martin Luther a mug of Einbecker Beer at the Worms Reichstag in the year 1521, Martin Luther called out, ‘The best drink known to man is called Ainpöckisch Beer [Der beste Trank, den einer kennt, wird Ainpöckisch Bier genennt].’” (Ainpöckisch, the word from which bock beer is derived, is an archaic spelling of Einbeckisch or Einbecker, that is, “from [the city of] Einbeck.”) I sought to track down the origin of this tradition. As it turns out, Luther called out no such thing, nor did Duke Erich actually hand Luther a mug of Einbecker beer in person. However, according to an oration given by the theologian Nikolaus Selnecker (1530–1592) in Hildesheim in 1590, the following did occur on April 18, 1521, at the Imperial Diet of Worms:

As Luther was leaving [the hall], and with many people crowded around him, Erich the Elder, duke of Brunswick, sends him a silver tankard filled with Einbecker beer, inviting him to refresh himself. Luther asks which prince was thinking of him with this gesture, and hears that the giver, a papist, had already taken a drink from the tankard so that Luther would not suspect anything sinister. So Luther himself takes a drink and says, “As Prince Erich has thought of me today, so may Christ think of him in his final battle.”1 Duke Erich remembered these words when he was about to breathe his last, and he requested that Franz von Kramm, a page attending him at his bedside, revive him with evangelical comfort.2

I have not found any definitive confirmation of this from primary sources, but the tradition certainly has the ring of truth to it and a number of factors in support of its veracity. Among these factors are the likelihood of Duke Erich having brought Einbecker beer with him to the diet (due to his close proximity to the city of Einbeck, the fact that Einbeck was under the rule of his relative, and the reputation of Einbecker beer), Selnecker’s close friendship with Melanchthon (who in turn was a close friend of Luther), and Selnecker’s knowledge of the page’s name, which may indicate that the information was handed down in whole or in part from the page.

So, until proven to the contrary, if you want to enjoy the same refreshment that revived Luther after his bold and taxing witness before Emperor Charles V, crack open a bottle of Einbecker Ainpöckisch 1378—the official beer of Luther’s stand at the Diet of Worms. (This was also the beer later given to the Luthers by the Wittenberg city council on the occasion of their wedding.)

This post in no way originated with, and is not endorsed by, Einbecker Beer. Always drink in moderation to the glory of God.

Sources

Brecht, Martin. Martin Luther: Shaping and Defining the Reformation (1521–1532). Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994. Page 200.

Selnecker, Nikolaus. Oratio Historica de Initiis, Causis, et Progressu Confessionis Augustanae, et de Vita ac Laboribus D. D. Martini Lutheri, Postremae Aetatis Eliae. Jena: Tobias Steinmann, 1592. Originally given in Hildesheim in 1590. Folio 22 verso.

Endnotes

1 That is, in the hour of his (Erich’s) death.

2 That is, he wanted the page to comfort him with the gospel as preached and taught by the evangelicals, not the papists.

Luther the Apologist

Apologetics has definitely reclaimed a prominent place in Christianity today. This is yet another realm to which Martin Luther, who reflected on nearly everything, also provides valuable contributions. Much of his sermon on Trinity Sunday (June 16) of 1538 took up the defense of the Christian faith. It was more of a thematic sermon on the Trinity—with a considerable aside on the veracity and reliability of the Trinitarian faith—than it was an exposition of a specific text. The content of this sermon is sometimes overshadowed by the pronouncement against Simon Lemnius that Luther read from the pulpit after the sermon.

The larger quote that follows is admittedly somewhat speculative. It is based on Andreas Poach’s working of Georg Rörer’s stenographic transcript in his (Poach’s) 1559 edition of the House Postil. Luther preached that there were basically three “external indications” that the Christian faith was the one true faith. After expanding on each of these in detail, Rörer records him concluding with these sentences:

These are the external indications that our faith is true—that divine power shows itself in this faith against the gates of hell. Likewise, prophecy about future and past events. No other faith has these three things; it [i.e. our faith] is therefore most true.

It is clear from these lines that Luther recapped all three points here. However, only the second and third are in Rörer’s transcript—divine power showing itself in Christianity against the gates of hell and prophecies coming true. Luther doubtless mentioned the first also—the Christian faith’s long duration—but Rörer probably figured he or anyone else reading his transcript would realize that and fill in the blank for themselves. (In the meantime, he could use the short summary paragraph to relax his hand a bit.) This is, in fact, exactly what Poach did. Johann Stoltz (1514–1556) also transcribed this sermon, but he did not include any of the summary paragraph; he likely also seized the opportunity to catch up on what he had been transcribing and to relax his hand.

So for this Quote, I will share Poach’s reworking, which is probably closer to what Luther actually preached. And even if it is more verbose than what Luther originally preached at this point in his sermon, it will give the reader an idea of what Luther covered in the preceding paragraphs.

These, then, are the external indications and proofs that our faith is the true faith: First, its long duration, the fact that this faith has existed from the beginning of the world and will continue to exist until the end of the world. Second, its strength, the fact that this faith stands victorious against every attack, and the might and power of God has shown itself in this faith, even against the gates of hell. Third, its prophecies, the fact that this faith says in advance what is to come, and the prophecies line up nicely with the historical facts and come true without fail. No other faith has these three points; only the Christian faith does. Therefore it is truly and certainly the one true faith.

Sources

Weimar Edition 46:436 (original transcripts)

Erlangen Edition 6:230 (Poach’s edition of Rörer’s transcript)

Weimar Edition 50:348–51 (pronouncement against Simon Lemnius)

Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: The Preservation of the Church (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 87–89

Martin Luther’s Praise of Music (German)

Brief Introduction

First Page of Praetorius’s 1607 Reprint of Luther’s Preface, Entitled Encomion Musices

In 1607, the Lutheran composer and musician, Michael Praetorius (1571–1621), had Installments 1–4 of his Musae Sioniae (Muses of Zion) series published together in Wolfenbüttel. He had his woodcut portrait printed on the back of the special title page, and immediately opposite his portrait, a reprint of a work by Martin Luther under the title Encomion Musices (Praise of Music).

I will trace the origins and subsequent use and translation of this work, and the debates surrounding it, in greater detail in the Afterword below. For now, the reader should be aware that Luther originally composed this work in Latin in 1538, as a preface for a motet collection printed in Wittenberg by Georg Rhau. Praetorius used a 1564 German translation of this preface by the cantor Johann Walther (1496–1570) as his base text; Praetorius’s father had once been Walther’s colleague in Torgau. But Praetorius also consulted a version of the preface printed by Wolfgang Figulus (c. 1525–after 1588) in 1575, and he inserted text from Figulus’s version in four places in Walther’s text—additions which he felt contributed something that was missing in Walther’s version. Thus the Encomion Musices is a hybrid version of Luther’s preface.

I have distinguished Walther’s original translation from the Figulus interpolations by placing the latter in brackets [ ]. (No such distinction appeared in Praetorius’s reprint.) I also bolded the parts that Praetorius put in bold typeface, but the reader should be aware that neither Walther’s nor Figulus’s versions, as originally printed, contained any bold typeface.

I produced this original translation using Praetorius’s hybrid reprint, Walther’s original translation as printed in the Weimar Edition, and Figulus’s version. (The preface preceding the text in the Weimar Edition also lent much assistance to my Afterword.) As far as I am aware, this is the first complete, from-the-ground-up English translation of this particular version of Luther’s preface, though if any readers are aware of another, I invite you to inform me thereof, so that I can give proper credit. You can find my English translation of Luther’s original Latin preface in this separate post. I present these fresh translations today, on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of Praetorius’s death, to the glory of the triune God, with the prayer that they will renew and increase the reader’s appreciation for God’s gift of music.

Martin Luther’s Encomion Musices (Praise of Music)

First Page of Luther’s Preface in Johann Walther’s Lob und preis Der Himlischen Kunst Musica (1564)

A preface by the holy, cherished man of God,
Doctor Martin Luther, on the heavenly art of music,
never before printed in German.1

To all admirers of the liberal art of music, I, Doctor Martin Luther, wish grace and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Though I would sincerely like to commend and highly praise this beautiful and precious gift of God, the liberal art of music, I find that it provides so much and such great benefit, and is so glorious and noble an art, that I do not know where to begin or end in praising it, or in what manner and form I might praise it as it deserves to be praised and to be cherished and appreciated by everyone. I am so overwhelmed by the rich abundance of praise for this art, that I cannot extol and praise it sufficiently. For who can say and point out everything that might be written and said about it? And even if a person really wanted to say and point out everything, he would still forget many points. In short, it is impossible for anyone to sufficiently praise or extol this noble art.

First of all, if you give the subject proper consideration, you will find that this art was given by God to each and every creature from the beginning of the world, and was created with all of them from the beginning. For there is absolutely nothing in the world that does not produce a noise and sound, so that even the air—though it is invisible and impalpable by itself, and it seems to possess the very least music, that is, beautiful tones and sound, and seems to be completely mute and inaudible—nevertheless, when it is moved and forced through something, it too produces its music and tones, and what was previously mute now begins to become audible and a form of music, so that it can now be heard and felt, though it was not heard or felt before. The Spirit is pointing out wonderful and great mysteries through this, which I won’t talk about right now.

Second, the music, tones, and singing of the animals, and especially of the birds, is much more wonderful still. [Ah, what a glorious music it is, with which the almighty Lord in heaven has endowed his singing instructor, the dear nightingale, along with its young pupils and so many countless thousands of birds in the air, since every single genus has its own style and melody, its sweet, glorious call and singular coloratura, which no one on earth can comprehend!] King David himself, the excellent musician who sings and plays purely divine songs on his lute and string-play, testifies to this, and he prophesies and sings with great amazement and passionate spirit about the wonderful singing of the birds in Psalm 104. There he says, “Upon them2 sit the birds of the sky and sing amid the branches.”

But what should I say about the human voice, with which all other singing, tones, and sounds simply cannot compare? For God has endowed the human voice with so great a music that his super-abundant and incomprehensible kindness and wisdom neither can nor may be understood even in this one thing. For the philosophers and scholars have certainly pushed themselves hard and taken great pains to investigate and understand this wonderful work and art of the human voice—how it happens that the air can produce words, sounds, singing, and tones through such a small and slight movement of the tongue, and then, too, through an even slighter movement of the throat or neck, likewise in many different styles and ways, depending on how it is governed and directed by the mind, and can do all that so powerfully and forcefully that it is not only distinctly heard, but also perceived and understood so far and wide, in every direction. But they have only attempted to investigate it; they have not actually discovered the answers. Indeed, no one has yet come forward who could even say and show where human laughter comes from (to say nothing of crying), and how human laughter happens. They are amazed by it, but that’s all the further they get; they cannot discover it. But we should entrust the reflection on the immeasurable wisdom of God in this one creature to those who have more time than we. I just wanted to touch on it briefly.

Now I should also say something about the benefit of this noble art, which is so great that no one, no matter how eloquent he may be, can sufficiently relate it. I can point out this one thing for now, to which experience also testifies: After the holy word of God nothing whatsoever deserves to be glorified and praised as highly as music does, namely for this reason, that she is a ruler over every emotion of the human heart (to say nothing right now of the irrational animals). She masters and controls the very emotion that frequently rules and overpowers humans, as if it were their lord.

For nothing on earth is more capable of making the sorrowful glad, making the glad sorrowful, bracing up the despairing, enticing the proud to humility, calming and suppressing passionate and excessive love, curtailing envy and hate, and who can enumerate all the other emotions of the human heart that rule people, and entice and drive them either to virtue or vice? For ruling these emotions of the mind and keeping them in check, nothing, I say, is more powerful than music. Yes, the Holy Spirit himself praises and honors this noble art as an instrument of his own office by attesting in Holy Scripture that his gifts, that is, the incitement and inducement to every kind of virtue and all good works, are given to the prophets through music. We see this in the prophet Elisha who, when he is about prophesy, commands that an instrumentalist be brought to him, and while the instrumentalist is playing on the strings, the hand of the Lord came upon him, etc. [2 Kings 3:14–19]. On the other hand, Scripture testifies that Satan, who drives people to every vice and depravity, is driven away through music. This is shown in King Saul. When the spirit from God came upon him, David would take his lyre and play with his hand and Saul would be refreshed and would feel better, and the evil spirit would depart from him [1 Sam. 16:14–23]. It was therefore for good reason that the holy fathers and prophets brought the word of God into many different songs and string-play[, so that music would always remain in the church]. As a result, we have so many kinds of excellent songs and psalms from them, which move the hearts of mankind both with words and also with the singing and sound.3 But in the irrational animals, string-playing, and other instruments, we only hear the singing, sound, and tones, without speech and words. It is to humans alone, in preference to the other creatures, that the voice has been given with speech, so that they would be able and learn how to praise God with singing and words at the same time, namely with the clear and sonorous proclamation and praise of God’s kindness and grace, in which beautiful words and lovely tones are heard at the same time.

Moreover, if a person compares humans to each other and considers the voice of each one, he will discover how God is such a glorious and complex creator in what he distributes to the voices of humans, how there is such a great difference among humans with respect to voice and speech, and how one is so far superior to another in this. For they say that you cannot find two people who have exactly the same voice, speech, and articulation, even if one person devotes himself to another’s style with careful diligence and tries to be like him and imitate everything like the ape.

And when natural music is sharpened and polished by craft, there a person can finally see and recognize with great amazement just a bit of the great and perfect wisdom of God in his wonderful work of music (for it cannot be comprehended or understood completely). Within this craft, it is particularly special and deserving of amazement when one person sings a plain tune, or tenor (as the musicians call it),4 and three, four, or five other parts are also sung alongside it, which accompany this plain[, simple] tune or tenor on all sides with shouts of joy, as it were, playing and jumping around this tenor, wonderfully adorning and embellishing this tune with many different styles and tones, and leading a heavenly round dance, so to speak[—meeting each other in friendly fashion and embracing each other with congeniality and love]. Those who understand and are affected by it just a little cannot help but be overcome with amazement at it, and they must suppose that there is nothing more remarkable in the world than a song adorned with many parts like that. But whoever has neither inclination nor affection for it, and is not moved by such a lovely wonder, must truly be a thick blockhead who does not deserve to hear such lovely music, but the desolate, wild donkey-braying of the hymn-tune by itself, or the singing and music of dogs or sows.

Now what more can I say? The subject and the benefit of this noble art is much greater and richer than may be related in a short space like this. Therefore I wish to have this art entrusted to everyone, and especially to the young people, and I hereby wish to admonish them to let this precious, beneficial, and joyous creature of God be cherished, loved, and esteemed by them. Through the knowledge and diligent use of this art, they can sometimes drive away evil thoughts, and can also avoid bad company and other vice. I then also admonish them to get in the habit of recognizing, lauding, and praising God the Creator in this creature, and to flee and avoid with all diligence those who are corrupted by sexual immorality and who misuse this beautiful element and art [Natur und Kunst]5 (just as the unchaste poets also do with their element and art) to serve shameful, frenzied, unchaste passion. You can know for certain that it is the devil who is driving them like that, contrary to nature. Since nature should and is meant to use such a noble gift only to honor and praise God, the Creator of all creatures, these depraved and unnatural children [ungeratene Kinder unnd Wechselbelge]6 are driven by Satan to take away and rob this gift from God the Lord, and to use it to honor and worship the devil, who is an enemy of God, nature, and this lovely art. With that, I wish to have you all entrusted to God the Lord. Written in Wittenberg, in 1538.

Afterword

Preliminary note: This Afterword is essentially the same as that printed in the companion post. If you already read that one, you can skip this one.

The history of the transmission of this preface through the ages is consistently marked by both admiration and errors. Since the admiration is fairly consistent, while the errors vary, I will categorize and trace the errors.

Error Category 1: Faulty Citation

Melanchthon’s Reprint of Luther’s Preface in Liber selectarum declamationum (1541)

The errors of faulty citation trace back to two facts: First, Rhau’s Symphoniae Iucundae did not enjoy particularly widespread distribution, which is the case with most printed musical collections. Second, Luther’s friend and colleague Philipp Melanchthon reprinted Luther’s preface on pages 768–71 of his Liber selectarum declamationum (Strasbourg: Crato Mylius, 1541). But he also reprinted a preface of his own immediately before it (pp. 766–68), also written in praise of music, also written for a musical collection published by Georg Rhau (Selectae Harmoniae Quatuor Vocum de Passione Domini [Select Four-Part Harmonies about the Lord’s Passion]), and also written in 1538. For his own preface in his 1541 collection, Melanchthon correctly cited the original source. But above Luther’s preface, he simply wrote, “Alia Martini Lutheri [Another Preface, by Martin Luther].” Since Melanchthon’s book experienced a wider distribution and went through reprintings, many understandably, though incorrectly, assumed that both Melanchthon’s and Luther’s prefaces had been printed back-to-back in the same work. (And since the Selectae Harmoniae also did not enjoy a wide distribution, there weren’t copies of the work handy against which to check that assumption.)

Thus the 1703 Buddeus reprinting7 and the 1873 reprinting in the Latin volumes of the Erlangen Edition8 (both Latin), Johann Jacob Greiff’s German translation (which appeared in Part 22 of the Leipzig Edition [1734]9 and Part 14 of the first Walch Edition [1744]10), and the 1898 German translation in the second Walch Edition (based on the Latin text of the Erlangen Edition)11 all mistakenly connect Luther’s preface either to harmonies about the Lord’s Passion or, even more incorrectly, to a supposed harmony of the accounts of the Lord’s Passion.

Error Category 2: Textual Modification

Other errors originate with one or the other of the two earliest German translations.

Lady Music, woodcut printed in Walther’s Lob und preis Der Himlischen Kunst Musica (1564)

The Lutheran cantor Johann Walther was the first to translate Luther’s preface into German. He included his translation in his 1564 publication, Lob und preis Der Himlischen Kunst Musica (Laud and Praise for the Heavenly Art of Music), which was an enlarged, swan-song-reprint of his 1538 work, Lob und preis der löblichen Kunst Musica (Laud and Praise for the Laudable Art of Music). (It is important to note that Luther wrote a different, poetic German preface for Walther’s 1538 work.) The dead giveaway that the German preface is Walther’s translation and not original with Luther is how the German text in Walther’s work compares to the section about listening to “some crap-poet” in the Latin version: “But as for those who are not affected by [figural music], they indeed are truly without taste and deserve to spend their time listening to some crap-poet [aliquem Merdipoetam] or to the music of swine.”

As Martin Brecht details in the third volume of his Luther biography,12 on Pentecost Sunday of 1538, Simon Lemnius, a talented but misguided University of Wittenberg student, offered some poems for sale outside of the Wittenberg parish church that he had secretly published through Nickel Schirlentz. In them, Lemnius made subtle insinuations about public figures in the town. He was subsequently placed under house arrest, but broke his fetter and escaped before he could be called up before the university rector (Melanchthon at the time). After his sermon on Sunday, June 16, Luther issued a pronouncement against Lemnius, in which he referred to him as a “dishonorable rogue” and a “shameful would-be poet.” After Lemnius’s escape, in September of that same year, he published an enlarged collection of poems which also took shots at Luther, among others. This led Luther to compose, apparently at least somewhat spontaneously, five elegiac Latin couplets at his table on Thursday, September 30, in which he referred to Lemnius as a Merdipoeta, “crap-poet”—no doubt a label he had already been using for him.13

This context not only explains Luther’s phrase, “some crap-poet,” in his Latin preface, as well as his reference to “the crude poets” in the final paragraph of that preface, but it also shows that the German preface in Walther’s edition was his own translation and not a Luther original. You can read the corresponding section in Walther’s 1564 work above. You will note there the disappearance of any reference to poets, because Luther’s original words would have been confusing in 1564 to people who knew little, if anything, about Simon Lemnius. But Walther also betrays himself in what he substitutes for Luther’s “crap-poet” reference—“the desolate, wild donkey-braying of the hymn-tune by itself.” For in his concluding remarks (Beschlus) in the back of his 1564 work, Walther not only verifies that Luther composed the preface twenty-six years earlier (1564 minus twenty-six equals 1538) but also makes it clear why he is publishing Luther’s preface in German now:

I see and experience that this art of music is being disparaged and despised by many who pride themselves in being evangelical and Lutheran. They think that it’s papistic [i.e. too Roman Catholic] when four- or five-part songs are used in Christian assembly and during divine services, and as if it would strengthen the papacy if music were promoted in figural singing.

Luther was not addressing any such problem in his own time. Thus it is clear twice-over from this one section that the Luther preface in Walther was translated and edited by Walther.

In spite of this, Johann Nicolaus Forkel in the second volume (1801) of his Allgemeine Geschichte der Musik (General History of Music)14 and Hugo Holstein in his 1883 article, “Eine unbekannte Schrift Luthers über die Musik [An Unknown Writing of Luther on Music]”15 push the German preface in Walther as Luther’s original. Forkel says that, “judging from the language, [the German version] must originate with Luther himself” (though I’ll show later that the German version at Forkel’s disposal was actually Praetorius’s hybrid), and that he had “read somewhere” (?) that Luther had nailed this preface to the church doors in Wittenberg in order to give church music the strongest possible promotion—the assumption being that, if he did so, he would have nailed up a German version. Holstein insisted that the German preface in Walther was Luther’s original and that the Latin version originated with Melanchthon, who translated it. But the idea of Melanchthon creating the concept of “some crap-poet” without it being in Luther’s original is unimaginable, not to mention that Melanchthon’s take on the Lemnius affair was different than Luther’s.

First Page of Figulus’s Version of Luther’s Preface (1575)

The second German version of Luther’s preface appeared in a musical collection published by Wolfgang Figulus (c. 1525–after 1588) in 1575. After carefully comparing this German version to both the 1538 Latin preface and Walther’s 1564 German translation, I don’t think Figulus’s version even merits being called a translation. It seems to be merely a reworking and compacting (with one glaring exception) of Walther’s translation, apparently simply for the purpose of boosting the sales of his work. (Beneath the title on the title page of the first tenor part-book, we find this “clickbait”: “With a German preface by the Reverend Father Dr. Martin Luther that has not been previously printed.”) This version would probably merit no further attention, except that the esteemed musicologist Walter Blankenburg (1903–1986) apparently went to great lengths to demonstrate “that the preface that Figulus published in 1575, rather than being an alternative German translation, was indeed Luther’s original draft that he then translated into Latin in 1538.”16 I am admittedly unfamiliar with Blankenburg’s work, but apart from the shorter length in Figulus and the first three words of his version of the preface more closely matching the Latin (Ich wolt warlich || Vellem certe), the evidence against such a conclusion is quite strong. Consider the following:

  1. If anyone were to come into the possession of a supposed original draft in German, it would be Walther, not Figulus. Recall that Walther actually published a work in 1538, the same year Luther published a poetic preface for that work and wrote his Latin preface for Rhau’s collection. Walther was Luther’s friend and collaborator.
  2. The idea of Luther possessing a draft for any preface he wrote at this time is problematic. In 1538 he dealt with the Lemnius affair and suffered from severe attacks of dysentery and gout, on top of his regular domestic duties and busy schedule of preaching, teaching, and letter writing. “Because of the great quantity of his business [at this time], his friends frequently had to be content with brief letters.”17 In reading the Latin preface, one gets the impression that Luther threw it out of his sleeve, as it were. His great genius is certainly still on display, but it does not possess the kind of organization and progression of thought that one finds in his more carefully crafted works, or that one would expect if he wrote it on the basis of a draft.
  3. The preface in Figulus begins and ends the same way Walther’s translation does—word for word. (Beginning [Walther/Figulus]: Allen Liebhabern/liebhabern der freien Kunst Musica wündsch/wünsch Ich/ich Doctor Martinus Luther Gnad/Genad und Fried von Gott dem Vater und unserm HERrn/HERRN Jhesu Christ/[omit Jhesu] Christo etc. Ich wolt… Ending: Hiemit will/wil ich euch alle/allen Gott dem HERRN/HErrn befohlen/bevolen haben.) What are the odds of the beginning and ending of Walther’s translation—and I have already demonstrated that his version was indeed a translation—just so happening to match Luther’s supposed original German draft? Especially when Luther’s Latin simply begins, “Martin Luther to Devotees of Music. Salvation in Christ [to you all].”?
  4. If what Figulus published was Luther’s original draft, Luther did a poor job following his draft when he converted it into Latin. In one place in particular the preface in Figulus has much more content than Luther’s Latin; in a number of other places it has less.
  5. In the one place where Figulus has much more content, the word Coleratur (coloratura) occurs. Any Luther scholars reading this are invited to correct me if I’m wrong, but I did extensive searching and I am led to conclude that if Luther did use this word in his draft, it was the only time he ever used it.
  6. One sentence in Figulus’s version doesn’t even make sense: “Indeed, no one has yet made it to the point that he could figure out the A-B-C of music, namely that, of all the visible creatures, humans alone can express the joy in their hearts by laughing, and conversely can cry when they are grieved.” How are laughter and crying the A-B-C of music? Luther’s Latin preface is much clearer when it identifies laughter as the alphabet and primary material of the human voice, not of music.
  7. The progression from the art or craft of music in general to figural music in particular, clearly present in Luther’s Latin version, is completely missing in Figulus.
  8. Both references to poets are completely missing in Figulus. Perhaps this is the best point under which to see Figulus’s method at work. Luther’s Latin reads: “To those who are even but modestly affected by this type of singing, it seems that nothing more wonderful can be found in this age. But as for those who are not affected by it, they indeed are truly without taste and deserve to spend their time listening to some crap-poet or to the music of swine.” Walther translates: “Those who understand and are affected by [figural singing] just a little cannot but be overcome with amazement at it, and they must suppose that there is nothing more remarkable in the world than a song adorned with many parts like that. But whoever has neither inclination nor affection for it, and is not moved by such a lovely wonder [Wunderwerck], must truly be a thick blockhead who does not deserve to hear such lovely music, but the desolate, wild donkey-braying [Eselgeschrey] of the hymn-tune by itself, or the singing and music of dogs or sows.” Figulus, imitating and compacting Walther, reads: “Whoever reflects on [figural singing] just a little and does not consider it an inexpressible wonder [Wunderwerck] of the Lord does not deserve to be called a human, and should get to hear nothing but the donkey braying [wie der Esel schreiet] and the sow grunting.”
  9. At the end of the Latin version, Luther calls the devil “the adversary of nature and of this most delightful art.” Walther translates: “an enemy of God, nature, and this lovely art.” Figulus reads: “an enemy of God, nature, and all that God has made and calls good.” On the one hand, notice the greater similarity of Figulus’s version to Walther’s translation than to Luther’s Latin. On the other hand, notice Figulus’s omission of the reference to the devil as the enemy of the art of music—highly unlikely to be Luther’s original in a preface on music.

More specifics could have been cited, but this should suffice to show that Figulus’s version, though important for its own reasons (which I’ll touch on shortly), is a reworking and compacting of Walther’s translation, and not a presentation of an original German draft by Luther or even an original translation of Luther’s Latin. One can go through Walther’s translation section by section, comparing each one to its counterpart in Figulus’s version, and one will consistently see Figulus borrowing vocabulary and phraseology from Walther, even as he reworks and condenses Walther’s material. (He even borrows language from Walther’s own concluding remarks [Beschlus] and incorporates it into his version of Luther’s preface, as I’ll touch on briefly further below.)

Error Category 3: Ignorance of Previous Versions

Another group of errors relates not so much to the preface itself, but to its presentation; these are simply errors of ignorance.

When Johann Jacob Greiff’s aforementioned translation was published in Part 22 of the Leipzig Edition of Luther’s works in 1734, it was accompanied by this byline: “Now translated into German for the first time.”18 Either he or the editor was completely unaware of both Walther’s and Figulus’s versions.

When Forkel published the second volume (1801) of his aforementioned history of music, he wrote: “It is noteworthy that this outstanding epistle is not found in any edition of Luther’s complete works”19—when in fact Greiff’s translation had been published in both the Leipzig and first Walch Editions. (Of course, Forkel wouldn’t have been looking for a potentially different German version, since he was operating under the assumption that the hybrid version at his disposal was Luther’s original.)

Hugo Holstein unfortunately put his ignorance on display right in the title of his aforementioned 1883 article, “Eine unbekannte Schrift Luthers über die Musik [An Unknown Writing of Luther on Music].” He went on to say in the article itself that this writing of Luther had “escaped all the editors of Luther’s works and [was] therefore not recorded in any edition of his works.”20 (By that point, it had also been published in volume 7 [1873] of the Latin volumes of the Erlangen Edition, but Holstein, too, was convinced that Walther’s German translation was actually Luther’s original.)

Encomion Musices: The Hybrid Version

The reason that I am publishing these two posts today, on the 400th anniversary of the death of Michael Praetorius, is because Praetorius’s German reprinting of Luther’s preface became one of its most prominent versions. As I mentioned in the Brief Introduction above, though, what Praetorius reprinted was actually a third German version—a hybrid of Walther’s and Figulus’s versions.

In my translation of the hybrid version above, you can see for yourself the text that Praetorius added from Figulus’s version in four places (placed in brackets). Most notable of these additions is the extended exclamation of wonder over the birds, and the nightingale in particular. Though this exclamation was not in Luther’s original, it does, interestingly, reflect sentiments that Luther expressed in the poetic preface he wrote for Walther in 1538,21 and it also borrows from language Walther himself uses in the concluding remarks (Beschlus) of his 1564 work.22

It was this hybrid version that Forkel reprinted, as did August Jakob Rambach and Karl Grell not long after Forkel (1813 and 1817, respectively).23 All three men were of course unaware that the Encomion Musices was a hybrid.

Even though Walther’s translation and Praetorius’s hybrid are not pure Luther in content, in that Luther did not express in that particular work all the thoughts that those versions express, they are nevertheless thoroughly Lutheran. They also give us insights into the mind, life, and work of both Walther and Praetorius—prominent and important figures in their own right. As just one example, one can distinctly hear Walther’s rendering of “wild donkey-braying” and “the singing and music of dogs or sows” in Praetorius’s dedicatory epistle for Polyhymnia Caduceatrix & Panegyrica (1619).24

Generally speaking, the very fact that this preface by Luther has been handled and mishandled, represented and misrepresented, so much and so often through the centuries, bespeaks all by itself the continuous, unflagging influence and impact of Luther’s musical thought, birthed from the Holy Scriptures.

Endnotes

1 Praetorius did not include this heading in his reprinting.

2 The Luther translation reads An denselben (“Along them”), not Auf denselben (“Upon them”), as Walther has it. The former makes much better sense, since the “them” refers to the streams formed by springs of water.

3 Because of the extra clause he inserted, Praetorius tweaks this sentence somewhat: “That is then why we have so many kinds of excellent songs and psalms, which move…”

4 Tenor in Luther’s day referred to the main voice-part or cantus firmus. Its usage implied at least three parts—a middle-range melody (tenor or “holding” or “enduring” part) accompanied by at least one alto (“high”) part and one bass (“low”) part. Incidentally, Luther’s original Latin preface was printed in the tenor part-book of Georg Rhau’s Symphoniae Iucundae collection.

5 Walther’s translation of the Latin et natura et arte. Luther is referring to the fact that music occurs both naturally in creation (element) and as something crafted and refined by humans (art), as already outlined.

6 Walther’s free translation of the Latin phrase adulterini filii. A Wechselbalg was a supposed demon-child swapped with a human child soon after childbirth—a superstitious explanation for major deformities in a newborn. In a transferred sense, the word could then be used for an illegitimate child or, as Walther uses it here, someone considered unworthy of being called human (usually for moral reasons).

7 Johann Franz Buddeus, ed., Supplementum Epistolarum Martini Lutheri (Halle, 1703), 327–30.

8 Heinrich Schmidt, ed., D. Martini Lutheri Opera Latina, vol. 7 (Frankfurt am Main: Heyder and Zimmer, 1873), 551–54.

9 Des Theuren Mannes Gottes, D. Martin Luthers Sämtliche…Schrifften und Wercke, part 22 (Leipzig: Johann Heinrich Zedler, 1734), appendix, 141–43.

10 Johann Georg Walch, ed., D. Martin Luthers…Sämtliche Schriften, part 14 (Halle: Johann Justinus Gebauer, 1744), cols. 407–412.

11 Johann Georg Walch, ed., Dr. Martin Luthers Sämtliche Schriften, 2nd ed., vol. 14 (St. Louis: Concordia, 1898), cols. 428–31.

12 Brecht, Martin Luther: The Preservation of the Church (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 87–89.

13 Weimar Edition 50:348–51; Tischreden 4:89–90, no. 4032.

14 Forkel, Allgemeine Geschichte der Musik, vol. 2 (Leipzig: E. B. Schwickert, 1801), 76–79.

15 Holstein, “Eine unbekannte Schrift Luthers über die Musik” in Die Grenzboten. Zeitschrift für Politik, Literatur und Kunst 42, no. 3 (Leipzig, Friedrich Ludwig Herbig, 1883) 77–83.

16 Robin A. Leaver, Luther’s Liturgical Music: Principles and Implications (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017), 12; see also p. 313.

17 Brecht, op. cit., 230.

18 Des Theuren Mannes Gottes, D. Martin Luthers Sämtliche…Schrifften und Wercke, op. cit., appendix, 141.

19 Forkel, op. cit., 76.

20 Holstein, op. cit., 78.

21 Weimar Edition 35:483–84; Luther’s Works (American Edition), 53:319–20; cf. 21:197; 54:351.

22 Desgleichen sihet vnd höret man von den Vogeln / wie sie mit jrem einigen Helslin vnd Rörlin / jren Gesang / so wunderbarlich vnd meisterlich / erstlich ausschlahen / vnd bald darauff jren Gesang / so künstlich Figuriren / coleriren / verdrehen vnd ritzen / das ein Mensch / der bey sinnen vnd nicht gar ein stein ist / sich darob hoch verwundern mus.

Likewise, one can see and hear from the birds how, with just the one little throat and pipe they have, they first knock out their song in such wonderful and masterful fashion, and then immediately figure, color, recast, and pick it apart so artfully, that a person in his right mind and who is not solid stone cannot help but be astounded by it.

Compare this language to the bracketed exclamation on birds, originating with Figulus, in the German version.

23 Rambach, Über Dr. Martin Luther’s Verdienst um den Kirchengesang (Hamburg, 1813), appendix, 84–90; Grell, ed., D. M. Luthers geistliche Lieder (Berlin: Ferdinand Dümmler, 1817), 85–93.

24 Gesamtausgabe der Musikalischen Werke von Michael Praetorius 17:viii.

Martin Luther’s Praise of Music (Latin)

Brief Introduction

Title Page for Georg Rhau’s Collection, Symphoniae Iucundae (Wittenberg, 1538)

Martin Luther composed the following preface in Latin in 1538 for a collection of fifty-two motets published by Georg Rhau (1488–1548), formerly the cantor at St. Thomas in Leipzig. The collection was titled Symphoniae Iucundae Atque Adeo Breves Quatuor Vocum (Delightful and Very Brief Four-Part Concertos1), and it included pieces by Josquin des Prez, Ludwig Senfl, Heinrich Isaac, Pierre de la Rue, Georg Forster, Philippe Verdelot, and Johann Walther. I will trace the subsequent use and translation of this work, and the debates surrounding it, in greater detail in the Afterword below. You can find my English translation of Johann Walther’s (1496–1570) German translation in this separate post.

I produced the following original translation from the Weimar Edition. (The preface preceding the text there also lent much assistance to my Afterword.) I did not consult Ulrich Leupold’s translation in volume 53 of Luther’s Works until after I had finished, when I used it to check my translation for mistakes. A comparison of my translation to his will preclude any possible charge of plagiarism. I present these fresh translations today, on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the death of the Lutheran composer and musician, Michael Praetorius (1571–1621), to the glory of the triune God, with the prayer that they will renew and increase the reader’s appreciation for God’s gift of music.

Martin Luther to Devotees of Music

First Page of Luther’s Preface in Symphoniae Iucundae (1538)

Salvation in Christ to you all. I would certainly and sincerely like it if music, that divine and most excellent gift, were praised and made appealing to everyone, but I am so overwhelmed by the quantity and quality of its virtue and excellence, that I would not know where to start or finish, or a suitable manner of speech, and I would be forced to be a poor and helpless eulogizer with such an extreme abundance of merits to eulogize. For who could capture all of them? And if you tried to capture all of them, you would seem to have captured nothing.

First, if you should consider the thing itself, you will discover that music was imparted to all creatures, individually and collectively, from the beginning of world, or was created together with them. For nothing is without sound or sonorous rhythm, so that even the air itself—though by itself invisible and impalpable, and imperceptible to all the senses, and accounted as the least musical of all things, as completely mute and nothing, in fact—nevertheless becomes sonorous and audible when it is moved, and palpable too. The Holy Spirit means to draw attention to wonderful mysteries in this, but this is not the place to talk about them. But music is even more wonderful in the animals, especially the birds, just as that most musical king and divine lyre-player, David, prophesies [praedicit]2 with tremendous amazement and exultant spirit about the wonderful skill of the birds and the serenity of their singing when he says in Psalm 104[:12]:3 “Above them4 nest the birds of the sky; from amid the branches they give their voices.”

But compared to the human voice, everything else is all but unmusical—so great is the super-extravagant and incomprehensible generosity and wisdom of the supreme Creator in this one thing. The philosophers have tired themselves out trying to understand this wonderful artistry of the human voice—how air pushed by such a slight movement of the tongue and an even gentler movement of the throat can produce that infinite variety and articulation of sound and words, at the will of the mind that governs it, and so powerfully and forcefully between locations separated by such great distances, that it can not only be distinctly heard, but also understood by everyone in the surrounding area. But the philosophers can only tire themselves out asking; they never find the answers and must give up in astonishment, amazed that no one has yet been found who could define and decide what laughter is (to say nothing of weeping), even though that is just a hissing of the human voice, yes, its alphabet, as it were, or primary material (materia prima). They can marvel at it, but they cannot wrap their minds around it. But we should leave these observations on the infinite wisdom of God in this one creature5 to better men with less work to occupy them; we are barely scratching the surface.

This would have been a good place to talk about the benefits of something so great. But this aspect of music, too, far exceeds the most eloquent eloquence of all the most eloquent speakers with its infinite variety and usefulness. We are able to cite this one thing for now, because experience testifies to it: Music is the one thing that justly ought to be honored, after the word of God, as the lord and ruler [domina et gubernatrix]6 of the emotions of mankind (the beasts must be disregarded for now), in spite of the fact that humans themselves are ruled and, more often, seized by their emotions, as if they were their lords. No higher praise of music can be conceived than this (not by us, at any rate). For if you should wish to cheer up those who are sad, or to terrify those who are happy, to revive the despairing, to break down the proud, to calm down those in love, to pacify those filled with hate—and who can number all those lords of the human heart, namely the emotions and impulses or inclinations, the instigators of all virtues and vices?—what more effective thing could you find than music herself? The Holy Spirit himself honors her as an instrument of his own particular office by testifying in his Holy Scriptures that his gifts, that is, the affection for all virtues, flow into the prophets through her, as can be seen in Elisha [2 Kings 3:14–19]. And he testifies, on the other hand, that Satan, that is, the instigator of all vices, is driven away through her, as is shown in Saul, king of Israel [1 Sam. 16:14–23].

It was therefore for good reason that the church fathers and prophets wanted nothing to be more connected to the word of God than music. For there are so many songs and psalms from them, in which both intelligible words and sound [et sermo et vox] are at work in the soul of the hearer, while in the other animals and bodies only music is mimicked, without any intelligible words [sine sermone]. So then, speech [sermo] has been given to humans in preference to others, coupled with the voice [voci], that they may know that they have an obligation to praise God with word and music, namely with sonorous preaching and with words united with pleasant melody. Now if you should compare humans to each other, you will see how manifold and diverse the glorious Creator is in his distribution of musical gifts, how much human differs from human in sound and speech [voce et verbo], so that one is amazingly superior to another. For they say it is impossible to find two humans who are exactly alike in voice and articulation, even if some people frequently seem to imitate others, like when some people try to ape others.

Finally, where diligence and the craft of music [Musica artificialis] are added—the craft that improves, develops, and refines natural music—here we are at last permitted to sample with amazement (though not to comprehend) the absolute and perfect wisdom of God in his wonderful work of music. In this kind of music, the best is when one and the same voice proceeds with the song’s theme [tenore],7 while more voices play all around in a wonderful way, adorning the main part with lively and most delightful figures [gestibus],8 leading, as it were, a sort of divine round dance alongside it. To those who are even but modestly affected by this type of singing, it seems that nothing more wonderful can be found in this age. But as for those who are not affected by it, they indeed are truly without taste and deserve to spend their time listening to some crap-poet [aliquem Merdipoetam]9 or to the music of swine.

But the thing is too great for its beneficial traits to be described in this short space. You, most virtuous of young people, should let this noble, wholesome, and joyous creature be entrusted to yourselves, so that you have something with which you may sometimes remedy your emotions, in your fight against foul desires and improper relationships.10 Then, too, you should get into the habit of recognizing and praising the Creator in this creature. And you must also watch out for and avoid the depraved souls who misuse this most beautiful element and art [et natura et arte]11 to serve their own inordinate lusts, as the crude poets do. For you can be certain that the devil is carrying them away and inciting them against nature, since nature is meant to and ought to use this gift solely to praise God the creator. Those illegitimate sons, having turned the gift of God into plunder, use it to worship the enemy of God and the adversary of nature and of this most delightful art. Farewell in the Lord.

Afterword

The history of the transmission of this preface through the ages is consistently marked by both admiration and errors. Since the admiration is fairly consistent, while the errors vary, I will categorize and trace the errors.

Error Category 1: Faulty Citation

Melanchthon’s Reprint of Luther’s Preface in Liber selectarum declamationum (1541)

The errors of faulty citation trace back to two facts: First, Rhau’s Symphoniae Iucundae did not enjoy particularly widespread distribution, which is the case with most printed musical collections. Second, Luther’s friend and colleague Philipp Melanchthon reprinted Luther’s preface on pages 768–71 of his Liber selectarum declamationum (Strasbourg: Crato Mylius, 1541). But he also reprinted a preface of his own immediately before it (pp. 766–68), also written in praise of music, also written for a musical collection published by Georg Rhau (Selectae Harmoniae Quatuor Vocum de Passione Domini [Select Four-Part Harmonies about the Lord’s Passion]), and also written in 1538. For his own preface in his 1541 collection, Melanchthon correctly cited the original source. But above Luther’s preface, he simply wrote, “Alia Martini Lutheri [Another Preface, by Martin Luther].” Since Melanchthon’s book experienced a wider distribution and went through reprintings, many understandably, though incorrectly, assumed that both Melanchthon’s and Luther’s prefaces had been printed back-to-back in the same work. (And since the Selectae Harmoniae also did not enjoy a wide distribution, there weren’t copies of the work handy against which to check that assumption.)

Thus the 1703 Buddeus reprinting12 and the 1873 reprinting in the Latin volumes of the Erlangen Edition13 (both Latin), Johann Jacob Greiff’s German translation (which appeared in Part 22 of the Leipzig Edition [1734]14 and Part 14 of the first Walch Edition [1744]15), and the 1898 German translation in the second Walch Edition (based on the Latin text of the Erlangen Edition)16 all mistakenly connect Luther’s preface either to harmonies about the Lord’s Passion or, even more incorrectly, to a supposed harmony of the accounts of the Lord’s Passion.

Error Category 2: Textual Modification

Other errors originate with one or the other of the two earliest German translations.

The Lutheran cantor Johann Walther was the first to translate Luther’s preface into German. He included his translation in his 1564 publication, Lob und preis Der Himlischen Kunst Musica (Laud and Praise for the Heavenly Art of Music), which was an enlarged, swan-song-reprint of his 1538 work, Lob und preis der löblichen Kunst Musica (Laud and Praise for the Laudable Art of Music). (It is important to note that Luther wrote a different, poetic German preface for Walther’s 1538 work.) The dead giveaway that the German preface is Walther’s translation and not original with Luther is how the German text in Walther’s work compares to the section about listening to “some crap-poet” in the Latin version.

As Martin Brecht details in the third volume of his Luther biography,17 on Pentecost Sunday of 1538, Simon Lemnius, a talented but misguided University of Wittenberg student, offered some poems for sale outside of the Wittenberg parish church that he had secretly published through Nickel Schirlentz. In them, Lemnius made subtle insinuations about public figures in the town. He was subsequently placed under house arrest, but broke his fetter and escaped before he could be called up before the university rector (Melanchthon at the time). After his sermon on Sunday, June 16, Luther issued a pronouncement against Lemnius, in which he referred to him as a “dishonorable rogue” and a “shameful would-be poet.” After Lemnius’s escape, in September of that same year, he published an enlarged collection of poems which also took shots at Luther, among others. This led Luther to compose, apparently at least somewhat spontaneously, five elegiac Latin couplets at his table on Thursday, September 30, in which he referred to Lemnius as a Merdipoeta, “crap-poet”—no doubt a label he had already been using for him.18

This context not only explains Luther’s phrase, “some crap-poet,” in his preface, as well as his reference to “the crude poets” in the final paragraph, but it also shows that the German preface in Walther’s edition was his own translation and not a Luther original. The corresponding section of the preface in Walther’s 1564 work reads: “But whoever has neither inclination nor affection for [multi-part harmonic music], and is not moved by such a lovely wonder, must truly be a thick blockhead who does not deserve to hear such lovely music, but the desolate, wild donkey-braying of the hymn-tune by itself, or the singing and music of dogs or sows.” Notice the disappearance of any reference to poets, because Luther’s original words would have been confusing in 1564 to people who knew little, if anything, about Simon Lemnius. But Walther also betrays himself in what he substitutes for Luther’s “crap-poet” reference—“the desolate, wild donkey-braying of the hymn-tune by itself.” For in his concluding remarks (Beschlus) in the back of his 1564 work, Walther not only verifies that Luther composed the preface twenty-six years earlier (1564 minus twenty-six equals 1538) but also makes it clear why he is publishing Luther’s preface in German now:

I see and experience that this art of music is being disparaged and despised by many who pride themselves in being evangelical and Lutheran. They think that it’s papistic [i.e. too Roman Catholic] when four- or five-part songs are used in Christian assembly and during divine services, and as if it would strengthen the papacy if music were promoted in figural singing.

Luther was not addressing any such problem in his own time. Thus it is clear twice-over from this one section that the Luther preface in Walther was translated and edited by Walther.

In spite of this, Johann Nicolaus Forkel in the second volume (1801) of his Allgemeine Geschichte der Musik (General History of Music)19 and Hugo Holstein in his 1883 article, “Eine unbekannte Schrift Luthers über die Musik [An Unknown Writing of Luther on Music]”20 push the German preface in Walther as Luther’s original. Forkel says that, “judging from the language, [the German version] must originate with Luther himself” (though I’ll show later that the German version at Forkel’s disposal was actually a hybrid), and that he had “read somewhere” (?) that Luther had nailed this preface to the church doors in Wittenberg in order to give church music the strongest possible promotion—the assumption being that, if he did so, he would have nailed up a German version. Holstein insisted that the German preface in Walther was Luther’s original and that the Latin version originated with Melanchthon, who translated it. But the idea of Melanchthon creating the concept of “some crap-poet” without it being in Luther’s original is unimaginable, not to mention that Melanchthon’s take on the Lemnius affair was different than Luther’s.

First Page of Figulus’s Version of Luther’s Preface (1575)

The second German version of Luther’s preface appeared in a musical collection published by Wolfgang Figulus (c. 1525–after 1588) in 1575. After carefully comparing this German version to both the 1538 Latin preface and Walther’s 1564 German translation, I don’t think Figulus’s version even merits being called a translation. It seems to be merely a reworking and compacting (with one glaring exception) of Walther’s translation, apparently simply for the purpose of boosting the sales of his work. (Beneath the title on the title page of the first tenor part-book, we find this “clickbait”: “With a German preface by the Reverend Father Dr. Martin Luther that has not been previously printed.”) This version would probably merit no further attention, except that the esteemed musicologist Walter Blankenburg (1903–1986) apparently went to great lengths to demonstrate “that the preface that Figulus published in 1575, rather than being an alternative German translation, was indeed Luther’s original draft that he then translated into Latin in 1538.”21 I am admittedly unfamiliar with Blankenburg’s work, but apart from the shorter length in Figulus and the first three words of his version of the preface more closely matching the Latin (Ich wolt warlich || Vellem certe), the evidence against such a conclusion is quite strong. Consider the following:

  1. If anyone were to come into the possession of a supposed original draft in German, it would be Walther, not Figulus. Recall that Walther actually published a work in 1538, the same year Luther published a poetic preface for that work and wrote his Latin preface for Rhau’s collection. Walther was Luther’s friend and collaborator.
  2. The idea of Luther possessing a draft for any preface he wrote at this time is problematic. In 1538 he dealt with the Lemnius affair and suffered from severe attacks of dysentery and gout, on top of his regular domestic duties and busy schedule of preaching, teaching, and letter writing. “Because of the great quantity of his business [at this time], his friends frequently had to be content with brief letters.”22 In reading the Latin preface, one gets the impression that Luther threw it out of his sleeve, as it were. His great genius is certainly still on display, but it does not possess the kind of organization and progression of thought that one finds in his more carefully crafted works, or that one would expect if he wrote it on the basis of a draft.
  3. The preface in Figulus begins and ends the same way Walther’s translation does—word for word. (Beginning [Walther/Figulus]: Allen Liebhabern/liebhabern der freien Kunst Musica wündsch/wünsch Ich/ich Doctor Martinus Luther Gnad/Genad und Fried von Gott dem Vater und unserm HERrn/HERRN Jhesu Christ/[omit Jhesu] Christo etc. Ich wolt… Ending: Hiemit will/wil ich euch alle/allen Gott dem HERRN/HErrn befohlen/bevolen haben.) What are the odds of the beginning and ending of Walther’s translation—and I have already demonstrated that his version was indeed a translation—just so happening to match Luther’s supposed original German draft? Especially when Luther’s Latin simply begins, “Martin Luther to Devotees of Music. Salvation in Christ [to you all].”?
  4. If what Figulus published was Luther’s original draft, Luther did a poor job following his draft when he converted it into Latin. In one place in particular the preface in Figulus has much more content than Luther’s Latin; in a number of other places it has less.
  5. In the one place where Figulus has much more content, the word Coleratur (coloratura) occurs. Any Luther scholars reading this are invited to correct me if I’m wrong, but I did extensive searching and I am led to conclude that if Luther did use this word in his draft, it was the only time he ever used it.
  6. One sentence in Figulus’s version doesn’t even make sense: “Indeed, no one has yet made it to the point that he could figure out the A-B-C of music, namely that, of all the visible creatures, humans alone can express the joy in their hearts by laughing, and conversely can cry when they are grieved.” How are laughter and crying the A-B-C of music? Luther’s Latin preface is much clearer when it identifies laughter as the alphabet and primary material of the human voice, not of music.
  7. The progression from the art or craft of music in general to figural music in particular, clearly present in Luther’s Latin version, is completely missing in Figulus.
  8. Both references to poets are completely missing in Figulus. Perhaps this is the best point under which to see Figulus’s method at work. Luther’s Latin reads: “To those who are even but modestly affected by this type of singing, it seems that nothing more wonderful can be found in this age. But as for those who are not affected by it, they indeed are truly without taste and deserve to spend their time listening to some crap-poet or to the music of swine.” Walther translates: “Those who understand and are affected by [figural singing] just a little cannot but be overcome with amazement at it, and they must suppose that there is nothing more remarkable in the world than a song adorned with many parts like that. But whoever has neither inclination nor affection for it, and is not moved by such a lovely wonder [Wunderwerck], must truly be a thick blockhead who does not deserve to hear such lovely music, but the desolate, wild donkey-braying [Eselgeschrey] of the hymn-tune by itself, or the singing and music of dogs or sows.” Figulus, imitating and compacting Walther, reads: “Whoever reflects on [figural singing] just a little and does not consider it an inexpressible wonder [Wunderwerck] of the Lord does not deserve to be called a human, and should get to hear nothing but the donkey braying [wie der Esel schreiet] and the sow grunting.”
  9. At the end of the Latin version, Luther calls the devil “the adversary of nature and of this most delightful art.” Walther translates: “an enemy of God, nature, and this lovely art.” Figulus reads: “an enemy of God, nature, and all that God has made and calls good.” On the one hand, notice the greater similarity of Figulus’s version to Walther’s translation than to Luther’s Latin. On the other hand, notice Figulus’s omission of the reference to the devil as the enemy of the art of music—highly unlikely to be Luther’s original in a preface on music.

More specifics could have been cited, but this should suffice to show that Figulus’s version, though important for its own reasons (which I’ll touch on shortly), is a reworking and compacting of Walther’s translation, and not a presentation of an original German draft by Luther or even an original translation of Luther’s Latin. One can go through Walther’s translation section by section, comparing each one to its counterpart in Figulus’s version, and one will consistently see Figulus borrowing vocabulary and phraseology from Walther, even as he reworks and condenses Walther’s material. (He even borrows language from Walther’s own concluding remarks [Beschlus] and incorporates it into his version of Luther’s preface, as I’ll touch on briefly further below.)

Error Category 3: Ignorance of Previous Versions

Another group of errors relates not so much to the preface itself, but to its presentation; these are simply errors of ignorance.

When Johann Jacob Greiff’s aforementioned translation was published in Part 22 of the Leipzig Edition of Luther’s works in 1734, it was accompanied by this byline: “Now translated into German for the first time.”23 Either he or the editor was completely unaware of both Walther’s and Figulus’s versions.

When Forkel published the second volume (1801) of his aforementioned history of music, he wrote: “It is noteworthy that this outstanding epistle is not found in any edition of Luther’s complete works”24—when in fact Greiff’s translation had been published in both the Leipzig and first Walch Editions. (Of course, Forkel wouldn’t have been looking for a potentially different German version, since he was operating under the assumption that the hybrid version at his disposal was Luther’s original.)

Hugo Holstein unfortunately put his ignorance on display right in the title of his aforementioned 1883 article, “Eine unbekannte Schrift Luthers über die Musik [An Unknown Writing of Luther on Music].” He went on to say in the article itself that this writing of Luther had “escaped all the editors of Luther’s works and [was] therefore not recorded in any edition of his works.”25 (By that point, it had also been published in volume 7 [1873] of the Latin volumes of the Erlangen Edition, but Holstein, too, was convinced that Walther’s German translation was actually Luther’s original.)

Encomion Musices: The Hybrid Version

The reason that I am publishing these two posts today, on the 400th anniversary of the death of Michael Praetorius, is because Praetorius’s German reprinting of Luther’s preface became one of its most prominent versions. What Praetorius reprinted, though, was actually a third German version—a hybrid of Walther’s and Figulus’s versions.

First Page of Praetorius’s 1607 Reprint of Luther’s Preface, Entitled Encomion Musices

In 1607, Praetorius had Installments 1–4 of his Musae Sioniae (Muses of Zion) series published together in Wolfenbüttel. He had his woodcut portrait printed on the back of the special title page, and immediately opposite his portrait was Luther’s Encomion Musices (Praise of Music)—the title Praetorius gave to Luther’s preface—printed on four pages. Praetorius used Walther’s translation as his base text, but he also added text from Figulus’s version in four places—additions which he felt contributed something that was missing in Walther’s version. Most notable of these additions is the extended exclamation of wonder over the birds, and the nightingale in particular. Though this exclamation was not in Luther’s original, it does, interestingly, reflect sentiments that Luther expressed in the poetic preface he wrote for Walther in 1538,26 and it also borrows from language Walther himself uses in the concluding remarks (Beschlus) of his 1564 work.27 I document all four of Praetorius’s additions from Figulus, and the parts Praetorius put in bold typeface, in the companion post.

It was this hybrid version that Forkel reprinted, as did August Jakob Rambach and Karl Grell not long after Forkel (1813 and 1817, respectively).28 All three men were of course unaware that the Encomion Musices was a hybrid.

Even though Walther’s translation and Praetorius’s hybrid are not pure Luther in content, in that Luther did not express in that particular work all the thoughts that those versions express, they are nevertheless thoroughly Lutheran. They also give us insights into the mind, life, and work of both Walther and Praetorius—prominent and important figures in their own right. As just one example, one can distinctly hear Walther’s rendering of “wild donkey-braying” and “the singing and music of dogs or sows” in Praetorius’s dedicatory epistle for Polyhymnia Caduceatrix & Panegyrica (1619).29

Generally speaking, the very fact that this preface by Luther has been handled and mishandled, represented and misrepresented, so much and so often through the centuries, bespeaks all by itself the continuous, unflagging influence and impact of Luther’s musical thought, birthed from the Holy Scriptures.

Endnotes

1 Symphony did not have the more technical definition it does today. It was used as a synonym for harmony, and it also denoted any composition in which multiple vocal parts were harmonized, which was also the original definition of concerto (thus my translation). It was also the name given to various instruments, especially to stringed instruments equipped with a keyboard.

2 Here Luther uses praedico not in its technical sense of foretelling the future, but in its more general sense of the speaking done by the prophets.

3 Luther cites Psalm 103, the numbering in the Vulgate.

4 In the context, “them” refers to the streams formed by springs of water.

5 Namely the voice

6 Luther uses the feminine forms of “lord” and “governor,” which could yield a translation such as, “mistress and governess,” but he appears to do so simply because in Latin and German music is a feminine word and concept. Since he is here comparing the regulating influence of music to that of God’s word, it seemed best to use words that would apply equally well to both.

7 Tenor in Luther’s day referred to the main voice-part or cantus firmus. Its usage implied at least three parts—a middle-range melody (tenor or “holding” or “enduring” part) accompanied by at least one alto (“high”) part and one bass (“low”) part. Incidentally, Luther’s preface was printed in the tenor part-book of Rhau’s Symphoniae Iucundae collection.

8 Gestus corresponds to the Greek σχήματα. The idea of gestures or figures in music appears to be carried over from the use of those concepts in oratory, where a figure refers to “that which is poetically or rhetorically altered from the simple and straightforward method of expression” (Quintilian, Institutes of Oratory 9.1.13). The figures in music, then, are the harmonic notes and rhythms added to the melody or cantus firmus (“the simple and straightforward method of expression”), in order to beautify and embellish it and to enhance its manner of expression. Thus the German phrase Choral and Figural contrasts the singing of a melody in unison (Choral) with the singing of that same melody along with harmonic parts (Figural).

9 Luther is alluding to Simon Lemnius, though with the aliquem he avoids referring to him directly. (Ulrich Leupold renders this phrase, “a certain filth poet,” in Luther’s Works [American Edition, 53:324], but that more direct reference would have been quemdam Merdipoetam.) I talk more about this reference in the Afterword. See Weimar Edition, Tischreden 4:89–90, no. 4032, for the five elegiac couplets Luther composed “against the crap-poet Lemchen” on September 30, 1538. (The nickname Lemchen is both a crass diminutive of Lemnius and pronounced exactly the same as Lämmchen, “little lamb,” yielding the same effect as if he had called Lemnius, “dumb little Lemmy-lamb.”)

10 Alternate translation: “…foul desires and associations with corrupt characters.” Johann Walther rendered pravas societates as “bad company and other vice.”

11 Luther is referring to the fact that music occurs both naturally in creation (element) and as something crafted and refined by humans (art), as he has already outlined.

12 Johann Franz Buddeus, ed., Supplementum Epistolarum Martini Lutheri (Halle, 1703), 327–30.

13 Heinrich Schmidt, ed., D. Martini Lutheri Opera Latina, vol. 7 (Frankfurt am Main: Heyder and Zimmer, 1873), 551–54.

14 Des Theuren Mannes Gottes, D. Martin Luthers Sämtliche…Schrifften und Wercke, part 22 (Leipzig: Johann Heinrich Zedler, 1734), appendix, 141–43.

15 Johann Georg Walch, ed., D. Martin Luthers…Sämtliche Schriften, part 14 (Halle: Johann Justinus Gebauer, 1744), cols. 407–412.

16 Johann Georg Walch, ed., Dr. Martin Luthers Sämtliche Schriften, 2nd ed., vol. 14 (St. Louis: Concordia, 1898), cols. 428–31.

17 Brecht, Martin Luther: The Preservation of the Church (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 87–89.

18 Weimar Edition 50:348–51; Tischreden 4:89–90, no. 4032.

19 Forkel, Allgemeine Geschichte der Musik, vol. 2 (Leipzig: E. B. Schwickert, 1801), 76–79.

20 Holstein, “Eine unbekannte Schrift Luthers über die Musik” in Die Grenzboten. Zeitschrift für Politik, Literatur und Kunst 42, no. 3 (Leipzig, Friedrich Ludwig Herbig, 1883) 77–83.

21 Robin A. Leaver, Luther’s Liturgical Music: Principles and Implications (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017), 12; see also p. 313.

22 Brecht, op. cit., 230.

23 Des Theuren Mannes Gottes, D. Martin Luthers Sämtliche…Schrifften und Wercke, op. cit., appendix, 141.

24 Forkel, op. cit., 76.

25 Holstein, op. cit., 78.

26 Weimar Edition 35:483–84; Luther’s Works (American Edition), 53:319–20; cf. 21:197; 54:351.

27 Desgleichen sihet vnd höret man von den Vogeln / wie sie mit jrem einigen Helslin vnd Rörlin / jren Gesang / so wunderbarlich vnd meisterlich / erstlich ausschlahen / vnd bald darauff jren Gesang / so künstlich Figuriren / coleriren / verdrehen vnd ritzen / das ein Mensch / der bey sinnen vnd nicht gar ein stein ist / sich darob hoch verwundern mus.

Likewise, one can see and hear from the birds how, with just the one little throat and pipe they have, they first knock out their song in such wonderful and masterful fashion, and then immediately figure, color, recast, and pick it apart so artfully, that a person in his right mind and who is not solid stone cannot help but be astounded by it.

Compare this language to the bracketed exclamation on birds, originating with Figulus, in the German version.

28 Rambach, Über Dr. Martin Luther’s Verdienst um den Kirchengesang (Hamburg, 1813), appendix, 84–90; Grell, ed., D. M. Luthers geistliche Lieder (Berlin: Ferdinand Dümmler, 1817), 85–93.

29 Gesamtausgabe der Musikalischen Werke von Michael Praetorius 17:viii.

Later Editions of Luther’s Works

This post picks up where Early Editions of Luther’s Works left off. I must once again acknowledge the blog “Beggars All,” not only for the same reason I acknowledged it in the earlier post, but also because the author of that blog had already started a list of the volumes of the Altenburg Edition here.

Altenburg Edition

The Altenburg Edition was edited by Johann Christfried Sagittarius. It was intended to be an edition of “all the German books and writings” of Luther. With the exception of Part 9, all the title pages included these words: “Compiled from the Wittenberg, Jena, and Eisleben tomes.” (See Early Editions for more on those volumes.) The famous composer Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) possessed a copy of the Altenburg Edition.

Title Page of Part 1 of the Altenburg Edition

The above volumes comprise the Altenburg Edition proper. There was also a supplementary volume—edited by Johann Gottfried Zeidler and published in Halle in 1702 with a foreword by Johann Franz Buddeus (see below)—that is sometimes considered part of this edition. It contained “books, writings, and sermons” that were not published in the Wittenberg, Jena, or Altenburg Editions. (Here is a library catalog entry; I could not locate any online edition.)

Buddeus Volumes

The following were edited by Johann Franz Buddeus (1667–1729). He was a professor of philosophy in Halle (1693–1705) and professor of theology in Jena (1705–1729). Johann Georg Walch (see below) was his son-in-law.

Leipzig Edition

This edition was edited by Christian Friedrich Börner (1663–1753), a doctor and professor of theology in Leipzig. It was meant to be a comprehensive German edition of Luther’s works, “compiled from all previously issued collections.” The Latin works in those collections were carefully translated into German.

Walch Edition 1 (Halle)

Pieter Tanjé, Johann Georg Walch, engraving.

This edition was edited by Johann Georg Walch (1693–1775), a professor and doctor of theology in Jena, and published in Halle an der Saale. Like the Leipzig Edition, this too was an all-German edition, but Walch also took the liberty of updating Luther’s by-then antiquated German. Walch’s edition also gained some prominence in the United States when Concordia Publishing House, the publishing arm of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, issued a revised reprint of it from 1880–1910. (See “Walch Edition 2 (St. Louis)” under the “Editions of Luther” collection of links in the sidebar.) Note that some of the volumes were published out of order; the years are not typos.