Strieter Autobiography: Marriage

[Continued from Part 17. If you have not yet read Part 1, click here.]

Into the Ministry (continued)

I went to live with [Mr.] T[heisen] in the small town and was treated like a lord there. In front was a large room, my table, my bed, and there I taught school to six children or so. One Sunday I would preach in Elyria and those from the South Ridge, two miles away, would come over here; the next Sunday church was there and those in Elyria went over there. After the sermon I would also give Catechism instruction.

I lived for my quarter-year at [Mr.] T[heisen’s] place in town. One time I was not feeling well. My host said he had a small, white powder that I should take. I take the powder and feel completely miserable. I need to go through the garden to the throne15, but get such pains there that I can’t even move. My hostess comes and calls, “Mr. Pastor, you’ve been in there so long. Why don’t you get dressed and we’ll get you out of there.” I pulled myself together and the mother and the girl bring me into the house and lay me on my bed.

No sooner do I lie down than I get the cramp in both calves, which pulls my flesh together in a clump. I yelled, and they rubbed. I yelled, “Get me a pail full of cold water!” The girl gets water, and I put both feet into the cold water and the cramp goes away. But I thought, “You are never taking that powder again.”

Later I lived at [Mr.] S.’s house over in the woods. They had a frame house. In the front they had a small, low addition, where they lived. Then the actual house. That had a large room and a bedroom. It had a fireplace, but no stove. The inside of the house was not “plastered [geplästert].” It was winter. When I would put wood on, she would come and douse it with water on me and say the chimney was starting to burn. My dear neighbor-lady, F., brought a bed. Not far from there was an old log schoolhouse in which I taught school. When I arrived in the morning, I first had to shovel out the snow. There was a stove there, but bad wood. They would bring the logs that had already sat in the water for ten years and saw them into blocks. I would split them and make a fire. But it did not want to burn. My little children came; I sat them around the stove and I stood behind them. The whole winter I never got one foot warm and I contracted a terrible head cold, which I didn’t get rid of until I was in Wisconsin. In the evening a number of folks would come and I taught them hymns for an hour [hielt Singstunde].

Mrs. S. was one short, angry little woman. She had two boys. The smaller one was terribly dumb and couldn’t grasp anything at all. The whole winter we taught the three letters a, b, c. She would help: “Jonnie, what’s this? Say a. What’s this? Say b. Now, what’s this?” – pointing back to a. He doesn’t know. “You Satan, won’t you just say it?” and she lays into him. The boy starts crying. Then she says, “No, no, my Jonnie, I will not hit you any more.” The boy rubs his eyes. “Jonnie, what’s this?” She tells him. “What’s this?” She tells him. Back to the first letter. He doesn’t know what it is. She lays into him again: “You Satan, won’t you just say it?” The boy starts crying loudly.

I go in there: “Ah, just leave the child in peace!” That’s how it went every day.

One time the husband was by the fire in the field and didn’t come right away. When she called him for dinner, she tried to smash his brains with the fire poker. He just barely got out of the way so that he avoided her blow.

A family came from Germany. The wife became frightfully homesick and lost her mind. I visited her regularly. With God’s help I get her straightened out again. I went to live with [Mr.] F. I stayed there longer than usual. There I had it nice!

I had a listener who always went to sleep on me during the service. As soon as the sermon started, his head would start to hang. He came to announce for the Lord’s Supper. I said, “But my dear man, you are always sleeping during the sermon.” He replied that he could not help it. I said, “Let me give you a good piece of advice, sir. Come to church with the thought, ‘Today I am going to hear for once what the pastor knows.’ Then, when you are there, pray really earnestly that our dear God would please drive the sleep away. And if it comes anyway, then bite yourself on the tongue, and make it a good one.” And sure enough, from then on my dear man was a very attentive listener. Later everything closed down there for a while.16 Jüngel was now Steinbach’s successor in Liverpool. He told me, “[Mr.] H. came to me and asked me to begin there again, because people had moved into the area. He wanted to have me picked up with the buggy and brought back home and he would give me five dollars every time.”

I said, “Wow, that is a lot! Why is he willing to do all that?”

“Yeah, he said, ‘Pastor Strieter sowed seed in my heart, and now it’s growing.’”

I also began preaching in Vermillion.17 Several families lived there. I also used to preach on the South Ridge. When I did, I ate at [Mr.] H.’s at midday and marched eighteen miles to Vermillion, preached in the evening and taught hymns for an hour, and on Monday and Tuesday I taught school to eight little children or so. Tuesday after school I walked my eighteen miles back down and taught school the rest of the week back on the South Ridge. My miller [Mr.] T[heisen]18 had no more work in Elyria and had to go looking for work. He moved with his family to Liverpool.

In the spring of 1853 I was ordained by Schwan. He preached on the Good Shepherd. It fit well, and I earnestly made up my mind to become a good undershepherd. Steinbach assisted.19

I now went to live with [Mr.] S. on the rotation. At his house, next to the main room, was a small room that was to be mine. I made a proper table and bought myself a water pitcher and a glass. The room smelled terribly bad; it had been the cat’s den for years. When I went to bed, I felt things crawling over my entire body. I got up. Everything was covered in red.20 I got dressed, then sat down at my table, and laid my head on the table. That’s how I carried on.

One day the wife said, “Don’t you go to bed, sir?”

I said, “There are bedbugs.” She and her daughter go at it and start washing, but it didn’t help a thing; I had to stay at the table. The family simply did not live well. I could not eat their bread. It was three fingers high and so hard that you could have used it as a projectile and smashed in a person’s brains. Each morning he ran into the small town to fetch some meat, but every time he brought the udder, which he got for free or for a few cents. That went into the water and was brought to the table together with the gravy when it was just tolerably well boiled. Luckily they always brought boiled potatoes [Pellkartoffeln] to the table. So I could at least peel off the skin and eat my potatoes with salt, and I also would drink some water. The potatoes and the water did not fill me up, however, and it started to take a terrible toll on me. When I went to my schoolhouse on the South Ridge, I would have to stop and rest several times. How often I stood behind my table and thought, “It’s time for you to go and tell your people, ‘I can’t go on like this any more,’” but I never actually did so; I just kept on toughing it out.

One time my dear Ph[ilipp] T[heiss] loaded me on his buggy and drove me to Steinbach. Along the way he started in, “Sir, I would like to have a word with you on a matter of special importance.”

I said, “Okay, what is it?”

He said, “You must marry, so that you can get away from the S. family; you are in death’s clutches there.”

I said, “What are you saying! Sixty dollars a year – and that’s not coming in – and moving around every quarter year?”

He said, “You are always preaching to us about trusting in God; you should also take your own preaching to heart and have trust in God. God is clearly showing you that you need to marry, otherwise you may as well resign. And now let me also tell you whom you’re going to marry; take Lisbeth.” In Vermillion lived a widow, Anna Kunigunda Ernst, with six little daughters.21 The oldest, Lisbeth, she had sent to the parochial school by Steinbach and to be confirmed by him, since there was nothing happening in Vermillion. After confirmation the mother sent her daughter to Elyria, so that she would have church and Catechism instruction, and she made her home away from home at T[heiss’s].

Before this I got a letter from my brother, who wrote that [Mr.] L. had told him that he should write to me and ask me whether I wanted his daughter M. for my wife. One tramp after another was coming inquiring after her, but he had promised my father that I should have his M. I wrote that I could not think about marriage at this time; if God wanted to have it, he would surely work it out. In the meantime M. should not be bound to me. After a year my brother wrote to me that M. had married and had died while giving birth to her first child. I would have had a rich wife, but I would not have kept her; thus God cares for us without us even knowing it. —

We came to Steinbach. When he looked at me, he clapped his hands together: “Man, what do you look like? Whose house are you at?”

I said, “At S.’s.”

He said, “That’s enough of that; you are in death’s clutches there. You need to marry, so that you can get away from there.”

I said, “Marry with sixty dollars a year? How am I supposed to provide for a wife like that?”

He said, “Our dear God, who has provided for you to the present, will then provide for you both.” He continued, “You’re taking Lisbeth.” I would have been happy to take her, but she was too young for me.

We rode home, but from Elyria we went straight to Vermillion in order to hold service there in the evening. [Mr.] T[heiss’s] brother, H. T[heiss], was in the forest cutting wood for ship-building. When he came home: “Are you still at S.’s, sir? One only need look at you to see it. In that sh—house22 death has you in its clutches! Get yourself away from there.”

I said, “Whereto?”

He said, “Marry someone. Take Lisbeth!” She was right above us.

I said, “And where do I go with her?”

He said, “To Mother Ernst. She has a house in Vermillion; you’ll be well taken care of there.”

I said, “There are three of all good things; this is from God!”23

Mother Ernst and her little daughters came to church. I preached and taught hymns for an hour. Afterward Lisbeth went into the adjoining room to practice the melodion. I now say to Mother Ernst, in the presence of H. T[heiss] and Ph[ilipp] T[heiss], what was said to me three times in succession. She says, “If you would like my Lisbeth, sir, I give her to you with a happy heart!” We call Lisbeth out of the room and the betrothal took place.

"I found [this wedding picture] in an anniversary program from St. John Lutheran Church in Elyria, Johannes' first call." - Winfried "Joe" Strieter (13 April 2015), a great-great-grandson of Johannes Strieter

“I found [this wedding picture] in an anniversary program from St. John Lutheran Church in Elyria, Johannes’ first call.” – Winfried “Joe” Strieter, a great-great-grandson of Johannes Strieter, in an email dated 13 April 2015

After a quarter-year I rode with my Lisbeth to Elyria via railroad. There I borrowed a horse from the livery stable and we drove to Steinbach. He married us. On the way home I wanted to hurry up and I cracked one on the horse with the whip. It lashes out in back and its leg goes over the shaft. I have to unharness in order to get my horse free. After a while I lash again and my horse also lashes again and, sure enough, over the shaft yet again. I note that the beast knows his stuff, and I now must drive step for step.

I forgot to mention something, that the judge in Elyria wouldn’t give me a marriage license. He asked whether the girl was eighteen. I said, “No!”

He said, “Since you are honest enough to tell me that, I must also be honest with you and tell you that I can only give you a license with the consent of her parents.” So I had to get her mother, who then told the gentleman that I should have her daughter. My wife, Lisbeth, was born in Brownhelm, not far from Vermillion, on August 24, 1838, and we were married on January 17, 1854. There was certainly no eighteen years between those two dates.24

Endnotes

15 German: Pabst. Pabst or Papst is the word for pope. In many Protestant regions zum Papst gehen (“go to the pope”) was slang for using the lavatory or, in this case, the outhouse, alluding to the papal throne.

16 Strieter here is telling a story that happened much later to illustrate how this conversation, and the sermons now attended to as a result of the conversation, bore fruit for this sleeping man, whom he identifies a couple sentences later as a Mr. H.

17 Strieter’s spelling of Vermilion, Ohio

18 The print edition mistakenly reads F. for T.

19 From the “Church News [Kirchliche Nachrichten]” section of the June 7, 1853, issue of Der Lutheraner: “Most Reverend Mr. President! Herewith I am supplying the report I owe you, that Mr. J. Strieter, formerly a pupil at the Fort Wayne seminary, after he had received an orderly call from the German evangelical Lutheran congregation in and around Elyria, Loraine County, Ohio, was, at the behest of the Vice President, ordained by me and at the same time solemnly bound to all the confessional writings of our church on April 6 in the presence of his congeregation and with Mr. Pastor Steinbach assisting. Our brother’s field of labor is small by outward appearances; may the Lord be pleased to compensate for that by making it that much more fruitful through his blessing! — H. C. Schwan. Cleveland, May 6, 1853” (p. 142).

20 Bedbugs

21 I am indebted to Susan Hawkins, a great-great-granddaughter of Johannes Strieter, for sharing with me a document titled, “Sketch of the Parents of the Ernst Girls (Elizabeth, Martha, Sopie, Anna, Sarah, Mary)” by Henry F. Rahe, son of Anna Ernst and Henry H. Rahe. He relates the following concerning Anna Kunigunda (or Kunigunde) Ernst: “Anna Kunigunde Wittich was born March 16, 1811 in Kreis Rothenburg, Bebra Hessen Germany. Her parents were well-to-do and she received a good education for those times. She had a command of a fine High German and later in America acquired a good English. She was a very fine seamstress and a past master in fine knitting and crocheting. … She had the misfortune to lose her mother by death. Her father married again and [Anna] did not get along very well with her stepmother. Some of her cousins…and some friends decided to come to the United States. She thought it would be fine to accompany them here and if she would not like America, she could return to Germany. They left Germany in March 1836. … From New York they went up the Hudson to Albany, thence by Erie Canal to Buffalo, and by lake boat to Cleveland. Just how [Anna] got to Vermillion I do not know. My supposition is that some of her countrymen were interested in boat building and she accompanied them to the busy little boat building center of Vermillion. One of the men, Philip Minch, became a big lake boat builder and vessel owner. … At Vermillion, Ohio is where the married life of happiness and trouble for Casper Ernst and Kunigunde Wittich commenced, was lived and ended. They were married in 1837 by a Justice of the Peace. … As stated before, [Anna] Ernst would or could not put up with the weakness of her husband and divorced him in 1848 or 1849.” Earlier in the sketch Mr. Rahe had written: “Grandfather [Casper] Ernst was a six foot tall, broad shouldered, good-looking man. He had black hair and was dark-skinned. He was easy going and good-natured but his weakness was drink. Knowing Grandmother [Anna] Ernst as I did, although I was rather young to form an opinion, the trouble was that Grandmother would not stand for his weakness… Grandfather Ernst bought about an acre of land in the center of Vermillion and built a fair-sized frame house on it. This property and some money he gave to his wife at the time of the divorce. … Grandfather Ernst died in 1850 at the early age of forty-two, of typhoid fever… He was buried in a Vermillion cemetery along Lake Erie. The cemetery has since been washed into the lake.”

22 German: S—haus. Carl rendered the word pigsty, but he was being polite; pigsty is Schweinestall or Schweinekoben.

23 Strieter is referring to the fact that he was told to marry Elizabeth Ernst three times that day, by three different men.

24 The math puts her at 15 years old at the time of her marriage to Johannes, who was 24.

[Read the next part here.]

A Child Was Born to Us Today

Uns ist ein Kindlein

“Uns ist ein Kindlein heut geborn” as it first appeared in Gesius’ Geistliche Deutsche Lieder (1601). Source.

“Uns ist ein Kindlein heut geborn”
Anonymous

Translator’s Preface

In 1601, Bartholomäus Gesius (c. 1555-1613) published the first volume of his Geistliche Deutsche Lieder D. Martini Lutheri und anderen frommen Christen (German Spiritual Songs by Dr. Martin Luther and Other Pious Christians). According to the rest of the title, the hymns in the collection “were customarily sung throughout the year in Christian churches,” and were arranged by the author “with four or five voices, according to the usual choral melodies, in a proper and pleasing manner.”

For other hymns, such as “All Praise to You, Eternal God” (folio 9) or “From Heaven Above” (folio 10), Gesius cited the author. But for the hymn on folio 16, translated below, no author was recorded. The four-voice setting is presumably his own. If the title can be applied without exception to all the hymns in Gesius’ collection, either Gesius himself had authored it before this and it had found use in one or more churches, or it may have appeared anonymously (authored by one of the “other pious Christians”) sometime between Luther and the publication of this volume.

Eight years later, when Michael Praetorius (1571-1621) published the sixth part of his Musae Sioniae (Muses of Zion) in 1609, he set the melody in Gesius’ collection to his own charming four-part setting (no. XLIX), which has been popularized in such albums as “Mass for Christmas Morning.”

I was planning to have the choir I direct sing Praetorius’ setting on Christmas Eve, and so I set about to translate it. My only departure from the original, which was admittedly not strictly necessary, was that the original two middle lines of the first stanza –

ein wahrer Mensch und wahrer Gott,
daß er uns helf’ aus aller Not.

True man, true God in full was he,
To rescue us from misery.

I changed to the following:

True man in full, yet also God,
To shatter the Oppressor’s rod.

I think it is rare when a translator is able to improve on the original, but here I was convinced such a case existed. The rest of the first stanza is basically a summary of Isaiah 9:1-7, which was the “Epistle” for Christmas Day at the time of the original composition. So I changed the two middle lines so that the entire stanza would be a summary of Isaiah 9:1-7 (rf. Isa 9:4). The “Oppressor” refers primarily to Satan, but also to sin and death by metonymy and association (Hebrews 2:14; 1 John 3:8).

This hymn just about sums up the beauty of Christian theology and the meaning of Christmas in as concise, straightforward, and lilting a way as possible. I pray it accordingly fills you, the reader, with joy and confidence.

A Child Was Born to Us Today

1. A child was born to us today
Of chosen virgin, far away –
True man in full, yet also God,
To shatter the Oppressor’s rod.
Wonder and Counsel is his name;
Through him the Father’s grace we claim.

2. What more for us could God have done
Than that he gives us his own Son,
Who from us has removed indeed
All of our sin and each misdeed,
Redeemed us from the sin and pain
Wherein we else would e’er remain.

3. Rejoice, dear saints of Christ, therefore,
And thank our God forevermore!
But hate the cunning, lies, and vice
Which cost your Savior such a price.
Fear God and live lives pure and mild
To glorify the newborn Child.

A Prince’s Response to the Augsburg Interim

By Johann Friedrich the Elder (John Frederick I)
1548

UPDATE (12/8/15): The complete German original has also been included at the bottom in an attempt to counter its rare availability up to the present.

Translator’s Preface

On April 24, 1547, the Catholic princes of the Holy Roman Empire under Emperor Charles V decisively defeated the Schmalkaldic League of Lutheran princes under Elector Johann Friedrich I of Saxony and Landgrave Philip I of Hesse, at Mühlberg on the Elbe River. In the course of battle, Johann Friedrich and other Lutheran princes were captured by the Hungarian cavalry. This battle was part of a larger effort – agreed to by Charles V and Pope Paul III on June 26, 1546 – to compel the Protestants by force of arms to acknowledge the decrees of the Council of Trent, convened in 1545, and to return to the fold of the Roman Church.

Friedrich Bente reports:

The Elector [John Frederick I] himself was taken captive, treated as a rebel, and sentenced to death. The sentence was read to him while he was playing chess with his fellow-captive, Duke Ernest of Lueneberg. John Frederick answered, he did not believe that the Emperor would deal so severely with him; if, however, he were in earnest, they should let him know that he might order his affairs with his wife and children. He then calmly turned to the Duke, saying: “Let us continue the game; it’s your move.” (Historical Introductions to the Lutheran Confessions, 2nd ed. [CPH, 2005], p. 220)

Johann Friedrich the Elder. Portrait by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1531.

Johann Friedrich the Elder. Portrait by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1531.

But due to Emperor Charles’ threat to execute their beloved leader, the city of Wittenberg also signed a Capitulation to the Emperor on May 19. Johann Friedrich was compelled to resign his electoral dignity and the Electorate of Saxony was taken away from him and his heirs and given to his relative Maurice. In exchange, Johann Friedrich’s death sentence was changed to an indefinite prison sentence. Johann Friedrich talks more about the Capitulation in his Confession below.

But the conscientious Charles knew that mere governmental submission was not tantamount to submission to the Roman Church. The first step to reduce the Lutherans to obedience to the pope took place at the 1548 Diet of Augsburg, when Charles issued “The Declaration of the Roman Imperial Majesty as to How Affairs Will Proceed in the Holy Empire of the German Nation with Respect to Religion Until the Decision of the General Council,” or Augsburg Interim, on May 15. The decree became imperial law on June 30, though it proved impossible to enforce.

At some point in 1548, perhaps before the Augsburg Interim became imperial law, “special efforts were also made by the Emperor to induce John Frederick…to sanction the Interim” while he was in prison (Bente, p. 224).

That is where the Confession below comes in.

By 1557, several years after Johann Friedrich’s death in 1554, his written confession to the Emperor in response to the Interim had become more widely known. Nicolas von Amsdorf, in a preface to a book of Luther sermons on John 18-20 published in 1557, wrote of plans to have the Confession published (apparently together with the Luther sermons) and spoke very highly of it:

From [this confession] all pious and troubled hearts, which are assailed under the cross that they carry in any situations like those of [Johann Friedrich], should take a comforting example and illustration, so that they too confess their faith as joyfully and steadfastly as the praiseworthy elector of Christian memory did. He confessed his faith during his imprisonment dauntlessly, yet with the utmost patience and humility.

For he did not rant and rave, he did not disparage the Imperial Majesty or his counselors who urged him to accept the Interim, nor give them empty prattle. Instead, with due honor and reverence, he humbly and submissively requested, and yet at the same time announced, that he could not and would not accept such an Interim in good conscience, just as everyone will see and read in this confession of his. (source)

But in the preface to volume 28 of the Weimar Edition of Luther’s Works (1903), Otto Albrecht and Gustav Koffmane write, “We have not been acquainted with any editions of that ‘Confession’ of Johann Friedrich…from the year 1557. Nor have we come across any copy of the printing of [those Luther sermons on John 18-20 originally published in 1557] bound together with [it].” The most they can say is that a certain Dr. Knaake in Naumburg was in possession of a later edition of Johann Friedrich’s Confession, but they do not say anything more about the nature of that edition (source).

There is a fairly large excerpt from the Confession on pages 224-225 of Bente’s Historical Introductions cited above. One almost cannot read the excerpt without craving the entire document. Bente’s somewhat obscure citation for the excerpt is “Walther, 16”. This refers to pages 16-18 of the first part of C. F. W. Walther’s Der Concordienformel Kern und Stern (2nd ed., St. Louis: M. C. Barthel, 1877), which contains the historical background for the Formula of Concord. Walther’s citation there reads: “Rf. Unschuldige Nachrichten, 1702, p. 364, ff.”

The Unschuldige Nachrichten, or Innocent News, was published by Valentin Ernst Loescher, the great opponent of Pietism, in the first half of the 18th century. Thankfully, the Rare Books Room of the Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary had a copy of Loescher’s News for 1702, which I was able to locate this past summer.

There was one more problem though. Walther cited pages 364 and following, but those pages did not contain Johann Friedrich’s Confession. By checking the indexes, however, I found the entire confession reproduced on pages 393 and following under the title, “Churfürst Johann Friedrichs zu Sachsen Bekäntnüß auff das Interim” (translated below). The problem was that Walther’s excerpt began on page 394, which was misprinted as 364.

Loescher says that he is reproducing the Confession “ex MSTO,” short for “ex manuscripto” – “from the manuscript.” How he came to possess the manuscript is unclear, but it is known that he was a collector of rare books and manuscripts. For example, what is today termed Codex Solger 13, which contains a number of valuable, anonymous transcripts of Luther sermons, was once in Loescher’s possession (rf. here). And in fact, if I were into serious research and wanted to attempt to locate the manuscript Loescher once had, I would begin by searching the Solger collection in the Nuremberg City Library (Stadtbibliothek Nürnberg), since I know that at least some of Loescher’s collection ended up in Solger’s collection.

At any rate, we have no reason to doubt the authenticity of Loescher’s manuscript.

  1. Loescher was an earnest and honest confessional Lutheran Christian.
  2. The Confession’s content is in perfect agreement with the historical context delineated above.
  3. Its style and vocabulary is consistent with Johann Friedrich’s upbringing, and with similar writings of the same time period in general.

I am therefore happy to present to you, the reader, this profoundly beautiful confession of the once-powerful Lutheran Saxon prince, Johann Friedrich I. It is extremely difficult to imagine any politician writing something so full of biblical conviction today. The only negative of the Confession I can find is that in one spot it could give the impression of improper Church-State entanglement. (But one finds it difficult to fix blame for any such entanglement that may have existed in reality, if the Lutheran princes of the time were even half the kind of man this confession indicates Johann Friedrich was.)

May the triune God grant us all such a love for Divine Scripture, and for the Unaltered Augsburg Confession and the other Lutheran Confessions, which are squarely founded on it, and a conviction to match.

Elector Johann Friedrich of Saxony’s Confession Against the Interim
From the manuscript

I listened obediently when I was told that the Roman Imperial and Royal Majesty1 and the electors, princes, and estates of the empire had resolved2 how affairs will proceed in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation with regard to the Christian religion until a council should be held, and that the Imperial Majesty earnestly desires of me that I too would consent to the just-mentioned resolution and subscribe to the same.

Now, I am able to recall that when the most highly esteemed Imperial Majesty drew up the Capitulation,3 at first he also included an article saying that I was to obligate myself to whatever what would be decided in a council or that I would accept whatever Your Majesty would decree in matters of faith and not be opposed to the same. But when it was humbly announced to Your Majesty that I could not make such an agreement for many fitting reasons having to do with my conscience, and that no threat to body or life would bring me to do so, Your Majesty commanded that the aforementioned article be stricken and did not pursue any further dealings with me with respect to religion, which I also thus received with humble thanksgiving. And after I was relieved of this burdening of my conscience, everything else in person and possession was humbly surrendered to Your Imperial Majesty’s supremely gracious will and pleasure that much more readily. And after the Capitulation was formalized in all good faith, no further demands were supposed to be made of me, but I was to be permitted to continue in the religion I had embraced and professed. But since the Roman Imperial Majesty is now once again desiring of me that I give my consent to the prepared Interim or legal proposal [Rathschlag], I therefore, in humility, cannot leave Your Majesty uninformed that I have been thoroughly taught and instructed by the servants of the Divine Word from youth onward, and by diligently searching the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures I have come to know – and with God’s help I attest that I maintain this in my conscience without any wavering – that the articles as comprised in the Augsburg Confession, and whatever is in the same vein, are the correct, true, Christian, pure doctrine and are confirmed and founded in the writings of the holy prophets and apostles, and in the writings of the teachers who have followed in their footsteps, to such a degree that nothing conclusive can be produced against them.

It is for this reason that formerly my gracious, dear lord father, of blessed memory,4 and others, out of good and sufficient intelligence and learning, also for their part made us adhere to this Confession many years ago through legitimate ways and means, until a free, Christian, and impartial council should reach a decision. And by God’s grace and mercy, my pious lord father and I have stood by this confession – he to his grave, and I to the present day. And also as part of our governance, before and after the Confession, we have had this doctrine taught and preached, and we have known no other way – even as I still know no other way – to have the eternal, imperishable truth of God announced and expounded to our subjects than in this way. Since then I am now firmly convinced of this in my conscience, I owe God this gratitude and obedience in response to this inexpressible grace which he has shown me, namely that I do not fall away from the truth I have come to know and have confessed, the truth of his almighty will, the will he has revealed to all the world through his Word – so great is my desire to inherit eternal salvation and to escape eternal damnation. For this is what it says in that comforting and terrifying passage of God’s Word: “Whoever confesses me before other people, him I will confess before my heavenly Father. But whoever disowns me before other people, him I will also disown before my heavenly Father” [Matthew 10:32-33]. But if I were to acknowledge and accept the Interim as something Christian and godly, then I would have to go against my conscience and deliberately and intentionally condemn and disown the Augsburg Confession and that which I have hitherto maintained and believed about the gospel of Jesus Christ in many chief articles of doctrine on which salvation depends, and I would have to approve with my mouth that which I considered in my heart and conscience to be completely and utterly contrary to the holy and divine Scriptures. Oh, God in heaven, that would be a misuse and horrible blaspheming of your holy name, and it would be like I was trying to deceive and mislead both you on high in your exalted majesty and my secular jurisdiction here below on earth with fancy words, for which I would have to pay dearly, and all too dearly, with my soul. For that is the true sin against the Holy Spirit, concerning which Christ makes clear that it shall never be forgiven, neither in this world nor in the next, that is, into eternity. Since then I am tied up and imprisoned in my conscience (according to my perception of its voice) and since I know better from the instruction of proven testimonies of Divine Scripture, I therefore ask in all submissiveness and humility, through the mercy of God which he has shown to the entire human race through the incarnation and death of his only and beloved Son, our Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ, that the Imperial Majesty would not be put out by me for not agreeing to the Interim and instead stubbornly persisting in the Augsburg Confession, and for setting everything else aside and considering only how I might partake of eternal joys after this life of misery and trouble.

For the Imperial Majesty seems to have the idea that what I really want has nothing to do with religion or faith, but with some hoped-for reputation and other temporal things along with it5 – as if anything, out all the temporal possessions available, could be more desirable to me than my freedom and, above all, the prospect of going with my heavy and enfeebled body to be with wife and child in peace and ease.6 These are thoughts of the heart, which no one can know but God himself. But I testify before the face of God, and wish to testify at the Last Judgment, when God will demand an account from me and all people as to how we have spent our lives here in thoughts, words, and actions, that I am seeking nothing in this matter except the glory of his omnipotence and how I might be received as a child and heir of eternal life. As far as external matters are concerned, I have always been eager to render humble obedience to the Imperial Majesty, as God knows, and I will continue to do that and to keep inviolable what I have promised, vowed, and sworn to the Imperial Majesty, with all the integrity of a prince. I pray that the almighty God would soften Your Majesty’s heart toward me, that I might one day obtain favor with respect to my protracted imprisonment and be paternally released from the same, lest I be allowed to be the first prince and blood relative of Your Majesty7 to spend his life in prison during the reign of Your Majesty: to whom I let myself be herewith commended in all humility.

Johann Friedrich the Elder

Endnotes

1 Charles V (1500-1558), Holy Roman Emperor from 1519 to 1556

2 I.e., at the 1548 Diet of Augsburg

3 The Capitulation of Wittenberg is detailed in the preface above.

4 Johann the Steadfast (1468-1532) was Elector and Duke of Saxony from the death of his brother Friedrich the Wise in 1525 until his own death in 1532.

5 German: Denn daß / die mich belanget [sic] / in die Käyserliche Maj. gebildet / als solte es mir nicht umb die Religion oder Glauben / sondern umb eine verhoffte Reputation und andre zeitliche Dinge hiermit zu thun seyn:

6 Johann Friedrich and his wife, Sibylle of Cleves, had four sons. At the time this letter was written, the first, Johann Friedrich II, was 19 years old; the second, Johann Wilhelm, was 18; the third, Johann Ernst, had died in infancy; and the fourth, Johann Friedrich III, was 10. Thus he is probably referring to his wife and youngest son here, though he may be using “wife and child” as a more general expression for “wife and children”.

7 One of Johann Friedrich’s great-grandfathers – the father of his grandmother, Margaret of Austria – was Duke Ernst the Iron of Inner Austria (1377-1424), who was also a great-great-grandfather of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.

German Original

Churfürst Johann Friedrichs zu Sachsen Bekäntnüß auff das Interim,
ex MSTO.

Ich habe unterthäniglichen angehöret / daß Römisch Käyserliche auch Königliche Majestät / desgleichen Chur-Fürsten / Fürsten und Stände des Reichs sich entschlossen / wie es im Heil. Reich Deutscher Nation / die Christliche Religion betreffend / biß auff ein Concilium gehalten werden solle / und daß die Käyserliche Majestät ernstlich an mich begehret / in gemeldten Beschluß auch zu willigen / und mich demselben zu unterschreiben.

Nun weiß ich mich zu erinnern / daß höchst gedachte Käyserliche Majestät in Auffrichtung der Capitulation anfänglich auch einen Articul hat setzen lassen / ich solte mich verpflichten / was in einem Concilio erkannt / oder Eur. Majestät in Glaubens-Sachen verordnen würden / das wolle ich annehmen / demselben nicht entgegen seyn; Als aber Ihrer Majestät in Unterthänigkeit vermeldet worden / daß ich aus vielen stattlichen Ursachen meines Gewissens halber solche Bewilligung nicht thun könte / und mich keine Gefahr meines Leibes und Lebens dahin bringen lassen würde; Derhalben Ihre Majestät gedachten Articul wieder aus zulöschen befohlen und fürtan wegen der Religion weiter Handlung mit mir nicht gepflogen / welches ich auch also mit unterthäniger Dancksagung angenommen / und nachdem ich diese Beschwerung meines Gewissens entladen / das übrige alles an Leib und Gut in Ihr. Käyserl. Majestät allergnädigsten Willen und Gefallen desto leichtlicher unterthäniglichen ergeben / und darauff die Capitulation vollzogen / in gäntzlichen Vertrauen / es solte forthin desgleichen an mich nicht gemuthet / sondern mir gelassen werden / bey der angenommenen und bekandten Religion zu verharren. Dieweil aber die Römische Käyserliche Majestät ietzo abermahls bey mir ernstlich suchen läst / daß ich zu dem gestalten Interim oder Rathschlag meine Verwilligung geben soll: So kan Ihrer Majestät ich in Unterthänigkeit unangezeigt nicht lassen / daß ich von den Dienern des Göttlichen Wortes von meiner Jugend auff dermassen unterrichtet und unterwiesen / auch durch fleißige Nachforschung der Prophetischen und Apostolischen Schrifften habe erkandt / und es / wie ich mit GOTT bezeuge / in meinem Gewissen ohn alles Wancken halte / daß die Articul / wie sie in der Augspurgischen Confeßion begriffen / und was daran hanget / die rechte wahre Christl. reine Lehre / und in den Schrifften der Heil. Propheten und Apostel und Lehrer / welche deren Fußtapffen nachgefolget / dermassen bestätiget und ergründet / daß darwider nichts schließlichs kan auffgebracht werden.

Darumb sich auch Weyland mein gnädiger lieber Herr Vater Gottseeligen Gedächtnüß / auch andere / aus guten satten Verstande und Wissenschaft derselbigen Confeßion vor vielen Jahren durch ordentliche Wege und Mittel biß auff Erkäntnüß eines freyen Christlichen und unparteyischen Concilii uns anhängig gemacht / dabey denn mein Gottseeliger Herr Vater biß in seine Gruben und ich / biß auff heutigen Tag durch GOttes Gnade und Barmhertzigkeit bestanden / und / auch bey unser Regierung vor und nach der Confeßion also haben lassen lehren und predigen / und anders nicht gewust / wie ich auch nicht anders weiß / denn daß wir damit unsern Unterthanen die ewige unvergängliche Warheit Gottes haben anzeigen und fürtragen lassen. Wann ich dann nun dessen in meinem Gewissen beständiglichen überzeiget / so bin ich GOTT gegen diese unaussprechliche Gnade / die Er mir erzeiget hat / diese Danckbarkeit und Gehorsam schuldig / daß ich von der erkandten und bekandten Wahrheit seines allmächtigen Willen / den Er durch sein Wort aller Welt offenbaret / nicht abfalle / so lieb mir ist die ewige Seeligkeit zu ererben / und das ewige Verdammnüß zu vermeiden. Denn also lautet es / das tröstliche und erschröckliche Wort Gottes: Wer mich bekennet für den Menschen / den will ich bekennen für meinem himmlischen Vater; Wer mich aber verläugnet für den Menschen / den will ich auch verläugnen für meinem himmlischen Vater. Aber wenn ich das Interim vor Christlich und Gottseelig erkennen und annehmen solte / so müste ich die Augspurgische Confeßion und was ich bißhero von dem Evangelio JESU Christi gehalten und geglaubet / in vielen trefflichen Articuln an denen die Seeligkeit gelegen / wider mein eigen Gewissen bedächtlich und vorsetzlich verdammen und verläugnen / und mit dem Munde das billigen / das ich in meinem Hertzen und Gewissen dafür hielte / daß es der heil. Göttlichen Schrifft gantz und gar zuwider wäre. Ey GOTT im Himmel das wolte deinen heiligen Nahmen gemißbraucht und grausamlich gelästert heissen / auch dafür zu achten seyn / daß ich dich droben in der hohen Majestät und meine Welt-Obrigkeit hunten auff Erden mit gefärbten Worten betrügen und umbführen wolte / welches ich doch in meiner Seelen theuer und allzutheuer würde bezahlen müssen. Denn das ist die rechte Sünde in den Heil. Geist / davon Christus deutet / daß sie weder in dieser / noch in jener Welt / das ist in Ewigkeit nimmermehr soll vergeben werden. So ich denn nun in meinem Gewissen / wie ich gehöret / verstrickt und gefangen bin / und eines bessern mit bewehrten Gezeugnüssen Göttlicher Schrifft berichtet werde; Alß bitte ich in aller Unterthänigkeit und Demuth / durch die Barmhertzigkeit Gottes / die Er durch die Menschwerdung und Sterben seines einigen und geliebten Sohnes / unsers Heylandes und Seeligmachers JESU Christi / dem gantzen menschlichen Geschlecht bewiesen hat / Käyserl. Majestät wollen es von mir zu Ungnaden nicht auffnehmen / daß ich in das Interim nicht bewillige / sondern bey der Augspurgischen Confeßion endlichen verharre / und alles andere hindan gesetzt / allein dahin sehe / wie ich nach diesen armseeligen und betrübten Leben der ewigen Freuden theilhafftig werden möge.

Denn daß / die mich belanget / in die Käyserliche Maj. gebildet / als solte es mir nicht umb die Religion oder Glauben / sondern umb eine verhoffte Reputation und andre zeitliche Dinge hiermit zu thun seyn: Gleich als ob mir unter allen zeitlichen Gütern etwas liebers seyn könte / denn meine Erledigung / und daß ich fürnehmlich meines schweren und unvermüglichen Leibes bey Weib und Kind in Ruhe und Gemach seyn könte. Solches sind Gedancken der Hertzen / welche niemand erkennen kan / denn GOtt selbst. Aber ich bezeuge für dem Angesicht GOttes / und will es bezeugen am jüngsten Gericht / wenn GOTT von mir und allen Menschen Rechenschafft wird fordern / wie wir unser Leben allhier mit Gedancken / Worten und Wercken haben zugebracht / daß ich hierinnen nichts anders suche / denn die Ehre seiner Allmächtigkeit / und wie ich möge auffgenommen werden zu einem Kinde und Erben des ewigen Lebens. Was äusserliche Sachen anbelangen / bin ich allzeit begierig gewesen / Käyserliche Mj. unterthänig Gehorsam zu leisten / das weiß GOtt / das will ich forthin auch thun / und was ich Käyserl. Majest. zugesaget / gelobet und geschworen / Fürstlich / auffrichtig / und unverbrüchlich halten. Der Allmächtige GOTT wolle Ihrer Majest. Hertz gegen mir erweichen / daß ich doch dermahleinst meiner langwierigen Gefängnüß halben Gnade erlangen / und derselben Väterlich erlediget werden möge / auff daß ich der erste Fürst und Bluts-Verwandte Ihrer Majestät nicht seyn dürffe / der sein Leben bey Ihrer Majest. gefänglichen zubringe: Deren thue ich mich hiermit in aller Unterthänigkeit befehlen.

Johann Friederich der Aeltere.