June 6, 2015 Leave a comment
Here’s both a humorous line from one of Martin Luther’s sermons, and an illustration of how it got tweaked and expanded (and distorted) over time.
Luther preached a sermon on Luke 7:11-17 in his home on Trinity 16, September 15, 1532. The second part of his sermon was that we should learn compassion from Jesus’ example. Luther emphasizes that showing compassion does not mean leaving sin unpunished. To underscore his point, he cites his own course of action. Here’s his original line (WA 36:329):
If a maidservant is disobedient, then I bring out the oak version of the butter log and spread a nice piece of buttered bread for her with it.
Veit Dietrich’s edition from his 1545 House Postil (WA 52:482):
So if there are wicked children or servants in the house, it is a payment from God when a person takes an oaken butter log in his hand and smears their hide with it.
Andreas Poach’s edition from his 1559 House Postil (EA2 6:54):
So if there are wicked children or servants in the house, it is also a work of mercy, which God is pleased to reward, when a person takes an oaken butter log in his hand and spreads a nice piece of buttered bread on their hide with it, to soften it up.
Klug’s English edition of Poach’s edition (Sermons of Martin Luther: The House Postils [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1996], p. 27-28):
It is, therefore, an act of mercifulness, chastisement from God, when, in the case of wicked children or household servants, an oaken butter switch is taken in hand and a little bit of pastry is applied to their hide, in order to soften it up a little.
I’ve been reading Klug’s edition for some of my devotions, and it’s certainly edifying. But it’s kind of frustrating when you read a memorable line like this, and you’re reasonably certain that you’re going to find something different when you go back and read the original.