Quote of the Week – Hus a Goose, Luther a Swan

I had read in more than one place about the reformer Jan Hus’s supposed prophecy that a hundred years after his death, a swan would arise who would (fill in the blank with reformatory activity). This of course was always applied to Martin Luther. Consider Johannes Mathesius’ usage of the story:

But the worthy martyr from Bohemia, Master Johann Huss, also prophesied about this doctor a hundred years before the fact, and hit upon the exact year he would arise and finally sing a nice little song to the Roman Church. “Today you all roast a goose,” said Master Goose in 1415, when the Council of Constance was about to burn him, “but more than a hundred years from now,” namely, once the year 1516 was counted off, “a purer swan will come, who will finally sing you a different little song,” which then happened – God be praised! For in 1516 Doctor Luther began to dispute against indulgences.

Similar to Elector Frederick the Wise’s alleged dream about Luther’s 95 Theses the night before he reportedly posted them, I have always wondered about the veracity of this prophecy.

I think I have found the answer, thanks to an article by Dr. Gottfried Herrmann of the ELFK in the Fall 2017 issue (vol. 114, no. 4) of the Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly. There Dr. Hermmann refers to Luther’s 1531 Commentary on the Alleged Imperial Edict. Luther composed this work in response to Emperor Charles V’s publication on November 19, 1530, of the final resolution of the Diet of Augsburg. In it the emperor “essentially reviv[ed] the Edict of Worms and [gave] the evangelicals a period of grace until April 15, 1531. In order effectively to root out abuses in the church, the emperor intended to persuade the pope and rulers to hold a council within six months. In the meantime the Protestant princedoms and cities should publish nothing further, should cease to proselytize, and should restore monastic and ecclesiastical properties.”

Toward the end of Luther’s Commentary, he himself cites the alleged prophecy (cited in the aforementioned article by Dr. Hermann):

St. John Hus prophesied about me when he wrote from his prison in Bohemia, “They will roast a goose now (for Hus means a goose [in Czech]), but in a hundred years they will hear a swan singing that they will have to put up with.” And that is the way it will be, if God wills.

In the Weimar Edition, this quote is footnoted by the editors as follows:

At the beginning of his imprisonment in Constance, at the end of 1414, thus a half-year before his death at the stake, Huss wrote to his friends in Prague the words that sound like a prophecy: “And this same truth has sent to Prague many falcons and eagles, which surpass the other birds in sharpness of vision, in replacement of the one weak and easily eliminated Goose. High above they are flying back and forth in this grace of God and snatching many birds for Christ Jesus, who will make them strong and will establish all his faithful” (Documenta Magistri Iohannis Hus ed. F. Palacky, Prag 1869, Epistolae Nr. 17, p. 40).

Johannes Mathesius, Historien / Von des Ehrwirdigen in Gott Seligen thewren Manns Gottes / Doctoris Martini Luthers / anfang / lehr / leben und sterben [Nuremberg, 1566], fol. 4

Lewis W. Spitz and Helmut T. Lehmann, eds., Luther’s Works, trans. Robert R. Heitner (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1960), 34:63ff, esp. pp. 65,104

Weimarer Ausgabe 30/3:387


Michael Schulteis: Student in Wittenberg

By Wilibald Gurlitt

Translator’s Preface

The following was translated from Wilibald Gurlitt’s Michael Praetorius (Creuzbergensis): Sein Leben und Seine Werke (Michael Praetorius [of Creuzburg]: His Life and His Works) (Leipzig: Druck von Breitkopf & Härtel, 1915), p. 9-10. This is the third in a series of posts on Michael Praetorius.

For more on the author, click here. For more on this particular work of the author, read the Translator’s Preface here.

This section picks up after Michael Schulteis, Michael Praetorius’ father, has enrolled at the University of Wittenberg during the winter semester of 1528, at about age 13. Though we have no personal recollections from Schulteis about his time in Wittenberg, Gurlitt is able to put us in his shoes anyway by citing the recollections of a man who enrolled at the university on May 30, 1529, at the age of 24, Johannes Mathesius. (I was startled to discover that Mathesius’ series of sermons on Luther’s life, a sine qua non for any serious Luther biographer or Reformation historian, has not yet appeared in English.)

The bracketed [ ] interpolations in the Mathesius excerpt are Gurlitt’s, except for those that contain the original German. For the sake of translation accuracy, I consulted four editions of Mathesius’ work:

  • Historien von des Ehrwirdigen in Gott Seligen thewren Manns Gottes, Doctoris Martini Luthers, anfang, lehr, leben und sterben (Nuremberg, 1566), folios 81, 82. (See link under “Sources” on the right.)
  • A. J. D. Rust, ed., Leben Dr. Martin Luthers, in siebzehn Predigten (Berlin: Verlag von G. Crantz, 1841), p. 105-106, 107.
  • Dr. Martin Luthers Leben (St. Louis: Druckerei des Lutherischen Concordia-Verlags [Concordia Publishing House], 1883), p. 125-126, 128.
  • The edition Gurlitt used for his citation (rf. Endnote 1).

Michael Schulteis: Student in Wittenberg

Master Johannes Mathesius, who spent his first semester at the University of Wittenberg in 1529, paints a vivid picture of student life at that time. Among other things, he relates the following from that year:

[S]ince Doctor Johann Pommer, pastor in Wittenberg, was absent at this time [Bugenhagen was in Hamburg], being regularly called upon to organize churches and schools in the land of Saxony [Lower Saxony], our Doctor [Luther] preached three or four sermons every week. In them he expounded the Sunday Gospels, the Gospel of John, and chapters 19 and 20 of the second book of Moses in a wise and Christian manner. It was also at that time, on St. James’ Day [July 25], that he beautifully applied the legends of St. Christopher to all preachers and Christian people who carry Jesus Christ in their heart and arms, guard their conscience, and help other people, and who receive nothing but ingratitude from the world and false brothers for doing so.

During this year I also heard, in the first place, the Catechism and many other comforting doctrines expounded, by Doctor Justus Jonas [theological dean from 1523-1533] in the castle [the collegiate Castle Church] and by the three deacons, Master Georg Rörer, Johann Mantel, and Master Sebastian Fröschel [in the parish church]. Now, just as the Parish Church and Castle Church were very well managed at that time, and the word of Christ was wisely taught in good harmony and produced much fruit, so also the university was held in the highest honor at that time.

From the Doctor [Luther] I heard the last 22 chapters in the prophet Isaiah expounded in the course of perhaps forty weeks. From these lectures I often returned home filled with comfort and joy [confidence].

From Mr. [Herrn] Philipp [Melanchthon], the faithful and diligent professor, I heard during this short time a portion of Cicero’s Orations and the beautiful Latin oration pro Archia. During this year I also heard him lecture on the entire dialectics [logic], which he dictated to us afresh, together with rhetoric [including homiletics]. In the morning this great man explained the epistle to the Romans; on Wednesday he lectured on honorable ethics and virtue from Aristotle’s Ethica or book of ethics. We debated or gave speeches [declamiret] on this every week. Mr. Johann Bugenhagen [who returned to Wittenberg in June of 1529] expounded the epistles to the Corinthians; Doctor Jonas expounded several Psalms. Aurogallus [Matthäus Goldhahn, d. 1543] lectured on his Hebrew grammar and Psalm 119. Master Franz [Burchart] of Weimar lectured on Greek, Tulichius [died as rector in Lüneburg in 1540] on Cicero’s De officiis, Master Vach [Balthasar Fabricius from Vacha an der Werra] on Virgil. The old Master [Johannes] Volmar lectured on the Theoricas planetarum,* Master [Jakob] Mülich on the sphere.† Master Caspar Creuziger lectured on Terence to the young students in the paedagogium at this time.‡ The private schools were excellently managed in the same way. Master Winsheim [Veit Örtel from Windsheim], Master Kilian Goldstein, Master [Veit] Amerbach, and Master Erasmus Reinhold, and soon afterwards Master [Johannes] Marcellus, Mr. Georg Maior [Major], and Master [Paul] Eber all kept their students in good discipline and diligently lectured and repeated.

There was also good peace and harmony between students and townspeople. …

… We all lived and sang in our choir [hatten unser Canterey] with joy and in good spirits, in love and friendship. Moreover, from the lips of the old men, for whom we juveniles had an honorable awe and reverence, fell many good speeches and stories which I diligently retained. And because it was precisely Mr. Philipp who lectured on dialectics, we had very good discussions consisting of questions and instruction in these and other lectures. There was also no excessive or immature eating, drinking, or entertainment; everyone tended to his studies for which he had come to the place…1

These captivating recollections were written down in the years 1562-1564. Many a detail in them would seem distorted by the passage of time, which tends to make the past more glorious. However, the great and significant thing that was alive in Wittenberg at that time still sounds out clearly on every side of this small portrait of time, which gives an accurate glimpse into the quiet sphere of the inner life of this great time, into the world which a young Wittenberg student experienced in those days, and into the wealth of stimuli and the abundance of important personalities whom he encountered on a daily basis and who filled his soul with sublime happiness.

In these incomparable surroundings, united by uniform convictions and common goals, Michael Schulteis also laid the foundation of his comprehensive education, which would set him apart from so many of his brothers in the ministry in the varied struggles of his life.

We first have to imagine the young Schulteis, occupied with the subjects of the trivium, as a student in one of those numerous Wittenberg “private schools,” which had arisen in the home of various professors according to Melanchthon’s standard. It is uncertain how long this course of study lasted for Schulteis. It is also uncertain when he obtained in Wittenberg the lowest academic degree, the honor of a Bachelor of Arts – or if he did at all;2 his later mention as such may have been merely a professional designation. For indeed, by March 22, 1534, he has been appointed as a Bachelor at the Latin school in Torgau; on that day he receives a pay raise of 10 florins from the council.3 He thus seems to have belonged to the teaching profession for some time already, the customary first step toward the preaching ministry. His outward circumstances were apparently quite poor, which also would have taken him away from his studies in Wittenberg prematurely.


* This might refer to Giovanni Campano’s (also called Campanus von Novara) influential work Theorica Planetarum (1261-1264).

† That is, the sphere of the heavenly bodies, since the universe was thought to be arranged in a series of revolving, concentrically arranged spherical shells in which the heavenly bodies were set in a fixed relationship. Today we would call this astronomy.

Heath’s New German and English Dictionary (1939) defines Pädagogium as a “secondary school (usually a private educational institution); college; academy; cramming establishment [or cram school].” The Journal of Education, ed. Henry Barnard (Hartford, CT: F. C. Brownell, 1860), in part 2 of its “History of the University of Tübingen,” dealing with the years 1535-1652, reads: “For better preparation in the languages, two preparatory schools were adjoined to the university proper; a ‘Trivial School,’ for the rudiments [of grammar, rhetoric, and logic], and a ‘Paedagogium’ immediately preceding entrance to the university. An eminently fit person was to be made ‘Paedagogarch,’ with three masters to assist him; and they were principally to teach grammar and rhetoric; to read with their pupils Terence, Virgil, and Cicero’s epistles; to make them compose a poem (carmen) and an epistle (epistolam); to instruct them in music, both simple and figured, and to sing with them, sometimes after meals, a motet or a psalm” (p. 70). A footnote says that the Paedagogium in Tübingen lasted until the Thirty Years’ War. It appears that the University of Wittenberg had a somewhat similar arrangement.

1 Johannes Mathesius, Luthers Leben in Predigten, in Ausgewählte Werke, ed. G. Loesche (Prague, 1898), 3:159ff.

2 Cf. Jul. Köstlin, Die Baccalaurei und Magistri der Wittenb. philosoph. Fakultät 1518-1537 (Halle, 1888), p. 14, where the conferrals from the years 1525-1532 are missing, with the note (fn. 4): “There seem to have been no conferrals in these years, partially due to the disturbances occasioned by Carlstadt and partially due to plague.”

3 Karl Pallas, Die Registraturen der Kirchenvisitationen im ehemals sächsischen Kurkreise, in Geschichtsquellen der Provinz Sachsen und angrenzender Gebiete, vol. 41, sect. 2, part 4 (Halle, 1911), p. 16.