Quote of the Week – Rubbing God’s Ears

Philip Melanchthon traveled to a colloquy in Hagenau after Philip of Hesse’s bigamy became known and was causing a scandal for the Lutherans. (Luther had actually recommended this bigamy for pastoral reasons—definitely not his finest moment.) The sensitive Melanchthon was so troubled by the scandal that by the time he reached Weimar he had already become so sick that he could not continue the trip. He contracted a bad fever and was bedridden.

Luther personally went to see him and arrived in Weimar on June 23, 1540. He found Melanchthon deathly ill, unrecognizable, and unable to hear or speak. Luther later said in one of his table talks that Melanchthon’s eyes had already dimmed like a dead person’s. After Luther expressed his shock, Matthaeus Ratzeberger, court physician for Duke John Frederick I of Saxony and eyewitness to what happened, says that Luther went to the window in the room and prayed an especially bold and earnest prayer. Luther himself seems to have felt the need to explain the boldness of the prayer afterwards either to everyone in the room or privately to Ratzeberger:

Our Lord God had to stand there and take it from me there, for I threw the sack at his door and rubbed his ears with all the promises to hear and answer prayers that I could recount from Holy Scripture, so that he had to hear and answer me if I was going to trust his promises in other matters too.

Luther then took Philip by the hand and said, “Cheer up, Philip, you are not going to die.” He then gave him a short address.

Philip seemed to regain his breath at this. When Luther ran to get him something to eat, Philip refused it, so Luther threatened him: “Listen here, Philip, here’s how it is: You are going to eat for me or I am going to put you under the ban.”

Melanchthon gave in, and from then on he began to recover.

Christian Gotthold Neudecker, ed., Die handschriftliche Geschichte Ratzeberger’s über Luther und seine Zeit (Jena: Druck und Verlag von Friedrich Mauke, 1850), pp. 103,104

Weimarer Ausgabe, Tischreden 5:129, no. 5407

Luther Sermon Reader, Be Aware

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.