A Prince’s Response to the Augsburg Interim

By Johann Friedrich the Elder (John Frederick I)

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


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.

Luther’s Weekly Sermons on John 16-20 (1528-1529)

By Licentiate Otto Albrecht and Dr. Gustav Koffmane
From the Weimar edition of Luther’s works, vol. 28

Translator’s Preface

In preparation for Easter Sunday this year, I translated some of Luther’s 1529 sermon on John 20:1-10 from vol. 28 of the Weimar edition (D. Martin Luthers Werke: kritische Gesammtausgabe [sic] [Weimar: Hermann Böhlaus Nachfolger, 1903], p. 425-447). Both because it was curiously laid out (with three versions on one page) and from past experience, I soon decided that it would also be worthwhile for me to translate the introduction at the front of the volume.

What follows is taken from that same volume, p. 31-37. The various page numbers, except when included in source citations, refer to pages in that volume. I have made some of Albrecht and Koffmane’s citations more complete than in the original, or changed their citations to earlier editions, as I deemed necessary for more easily locating the works they are citing.

I know next to nothing about Albrecht and Koffmane, the authors of this introduction.

I have also translated anew the historically significant preface by Nikolaus von Amsdorf referred to below under “Poach’s Version of the Sermons on John 18-20.” I will provide that in a separate post. I am still working on a translation of all three versions of Luther’s sermons on John 20:1-10 and 20:11-18 (Rörer’s transcript and Poach’s two editions) and will post those when I am finished. This may not be until around Easter of next year, or even later.

May increased study of Luther lead to an even more increased study of Christ and his life, death, and resurrection on humanity’s behalf.

Weekly Sermons on John 16-20

As a substitute for Bugenhagen (p. 1 above) Luther also took over the vesper sermons on Saturday from 1528-1529, which had always dealt with the Gospel of John for a number of years. (Cf. the quotation from no. XXXIII, p. 48, of the Zwickau manuscript on p. 2 above, as well as what Luther indicates in the sermon from March 25, 1529, in Buchwald, Andreas Poachs handschriftliche Sammlung ungedruckter Predigten D. Martin Luthers, 1/1:101, lines 2ff, and our edition 19:79, lines 21 and 25). Luther had already stepped in for Bugenhagen once before this, on February 15, at which time the text for consideration was John 14; Luther treated verses 1ff. According to what has been handed down to us in the present volume, Luther began to substitute for him on a regular basis on June 6, 1528, and he appears to have begun with a short sermon on John 16:1ff. Bugenhagen had probably finished John 14 and 15 in the meantime, and after his departure these sermons may have simply been omitted at first. Rörer conceivably recorded not only that one-time substitute sermon, but also the first of the continuous sermons in the notebook of sermons from the 1528 church year, as he likewise also certainly did with the first sermon on Matthew. The latter was preserved for us by a certain good fortune, while the others have been lost (cf. p. 3 above).

Certainly only the 35 sermons handed down to us by Rörer in Nuremberg 1a and 1-34 belong to the series of Saturday sermons on the Gospel of John delivered at that time by Luther when he was regularly substituting for Bugenhagen. From the rest, which Poach imparts in his two versions in order to fill in the undeniable gap in Rörer’s transcript, the one designated as Xb in the overview is excluded; Poach himself assigned it to Easter Eve of 1533 in P1 [Poach’s first edition]. Likewise the one from Easter Tuesday of 1529 (Xc) in P2 [Poach’s second edition] certainly does not belong in our series. The sermon from Easter Saturday of 1529 (Xa) in P1,2 can only be included in the series with reservation. The two sermons designated in the table as 32a and 32b apparently do belong to it and are borrowed from a different transcript in P2.

In the sermons handed down to us by Rörer, John 16:1—19:22 and 20:1-18 are treated. In the one that can be included only with doubt (Xa), John 19:23-30 is treated. In those that appear to belong (32a; 32b), John 19:31-42 is treated. Since Xc (on John 20:19-23) certainly does not belong here, Luther thus concluded with 20:18, because Bugenhagen, who had returned, stepped in after that.

From these sermons, the ones on John 16 had remained unknown until now (they are completely different from those that were delivered in 1537, according to Mathesius’ testimony, and were printed for the first time in 1538; cf. Erlangen edition 49:1ff; 50:42ff). The ones on John 17 were published by Cruciger during Luther’s lifetime. The ones on John 18-20 were published by Poach in two versions, but not until after Luther’s death.

These weekly sermons were held fairly regularly at first. From June 6, 1528, to March 13, 1529, only nine Saturdays were missed, and for the most part we know or can surmise the reasons for Luther’s pauses during that time.1 The treatment of the text shows no gap, which is proof both that he did not let anyone substitute for him for this series, as he did with the Catechism sermons in February of 1529 (cf. Buchwald, Beiträge zur Reformationsgeschichte, cited in Endnote 1 below, p. 50ff), and that the fault for the nine missing Saturdays does not rest with the person transcribing his sermons. But from here on difficulties in dating the sermons arise. After the sermon on John 19:8-14 (no. 31) from the Saturday before Judica [Lent 5], March 13, 1529, there follows in Rörer’s notebook another sermon without a date, on John 19:15-22 (no. 32). It has to be a different sermon, because otherwise the sermon on John 19:8ff would be twice as long as all the others. In addition, on p. 142a of Rörer’s notebook one can clearly make out a paragraph that was written in different ink, and right before this paragraph this sentence is written as a sort of closing formula: “We want to hold off until Holy Week.” This undated sermon is probably to be assigned to the Saturday after March 13, 1529, namely March 20, the Saturday before Palm Sunday. That would agree with the fact that the next sermon on John 19:23-30 (no. Xa) is introduced by this marginal note in Poach’s first version: “The exposition that follows is taken from a sermon by Dr. Martin Luther that he preached on Easter Eve in 1529,” that is, on March 27, since Easter fell on March 28 in 1529. For more details on this, cf. further below on p. 35.

The next date expressly given in Rörer’s manuscript is not until June 12, 1529, for the sermon on John 20:1-10, and then the manuscript closes with the sermon on June 19, on John 20:11-18. Concerning the replacement sermons that Poach brings in for the texts John 19:31-37; John 19:38-42; and John 20:19-23 (partly in his first version and partly in his second version), these are addressed further below.

The large gap in Rörer’s transcripts between March 13 (or 20, if the undated sermon mentioned above belongs here) and June 12, 1529, can be explained mainly by two circumstances. For one thing, we know that from Easter Wednesday to Exaudi [Easter 7], thus from March 31 to May 9, Luther took a break from his Sunday sermons due to hoarseness (cf. Buchwald, Andreas Poachs handschriftliche Sammlung, 1/1:151, 155; DeWette, Dr. Martin Luthers Briefe, Sendschreiben und Bedenken, 3:442, 451; Enders, Dr. Martin Luther’s Briefwechsel, 7:85, 95). After that Rörer was given a leave of absence to Nuremberg between May 17 and June 13 (see Buchwald, op. cit., p. 175; Zur Wittenberger Stadt- und Universitäts-Geschichte in der Reformationszeit, p. 59-60, no. 64, fn. 1) and thus could not continue his transcript on the (three) Saturdays that occurred during that time. A marginal note related to this can be found in his manuscript on p. 144b, which was added later: Desunt aliquot conciones [“Several sermons are missing”]; it is not next to the first line of the sermon from June 12, where it belongs, but occurs seven lines later. The person who wrote it probably did not notice that some sermons must have been omitted until that point while he was reading. That two of these sermons, which Rörer could not have transcribed, were preserved for us from another source in Poach’s second version may be accepted as true until someone provides proof to the contrary.

Thus Luther apparently interrupted his Saturday sermons on March 27, 1529, and then probably did not resume them until sometime near the end of May, concluding them on June 19 shortly before Bugenhagen returned home.

Rörer’s Transcript

Rörer’s notebook containing these sermons is the manuscript Bos. o. 17m in Jena, which also contained the sermons on Matthew at one time (cf. our edition, vol. 27, p. xii, and above). The pages are marked 79-150. At the top of the first side (p. 79a) the following words are written in faint ink, which were added later: Nunc vado ad eum qui misit me [“Now I am going to him who sent me” (John 16:5)], etc. and 2. pars [2nd part], which is perhaps meant to indicate that what follows is a “continuation” of the first sermon on John (no. 1a) taken down elsewhere by Rörer. Either that, or the sermons on Matthew that were once included are to be thought of as the 1. pars [1st part]. After that comes the following in Rörer’s hand: Sabbato primae dominicae post Trinitatis quae erat 13 Iunii.  Ex Eo Ioh: Expedit vobis [On the Saturday of the First Sunday after Trinity, which was June 13.  From the Gospel of John: “It is to your advantage” (John 16:7)], etc. The dates are likewise in the margin or added in the lines for the sermons that follow. Two sermons have no date. Halfway through – between the sermons on October 24 and 31, 1528 – the sermon delivered at Michael Stiefel’s wedding appears, imparted in our edition, 27:383ff.

The Saturday sermon that Luther delivered as a one-time substitute for Bugenhagen on February 15, 1528, is found in the manuscript Bos. o. 17e, p. 43a-44b, in Jena. The first of the sermons that Luther delivered as a regular substitute on June 6, 1528, is found in the same manuscript, p. 114a-114b. Cf. p. 31.

Cruciger’s Version of the Sermons on John 17

Luther’s hearers might have asked him to publish his exposition of the High-Priestly Prayer. Perhaps he himself had also wished and pushed for its publication before that. But since he himself had no time for that, he committed the task of working out the details of its printing to his friend Cruciger, according to Luther’s preface. Whether this assignment was first given after he had concluded the sermons or had already been given earlier, Luther’s preface does not say. Now Cruciger himself appears to have been one of the hearers, for he was in Wittenberg at the time (cf. the letters in De Wette, op. cit., 3:314,442; Enders, op. cit., 5:158f; 6:270f; 7:85; Mathesius, Historien von des ehrwirdigen in Gott seligen thewren Manns Gottes Doctoris Martini Luthers etc. [Nuremberg, 1566], fol. 80, 812). That being the case, being able to recall what he heard in person certainly made his work easier. It is possible that he even took down some notes of his own. But certainly Rörer’s notebook served as the main source for his work, as even a cursory, comparative glance at both texts reveals. The places where Cruciger deviates from Rörer can be attributed first of all to the unconstrained method of the editor, who took pains to make his often unmanageable and enigmatic master copy readable by combining, supplying, and switching material around. Occasionally he also probably misread Rörer’s handwriting, which is very difficult because he wrote so quickly. Considerable alterations, however, like the ones seen, for example, in the sermon on John 17:6-8 (no. 12), permit us to assume that in addition to Rörer’s transcript Cruciger occasionally used still other sources, perhaps notes he himself had taken down.

Before Cruciger published Luther’s sermons on John 17, he had apparently already tried his hand once at such assistant work for Luther, with the sermons on Genesis (our edition, 24:xvi). Cruciger’s most recent biographers, Oswald G. Schmidt3 and Theodor Pressel,4 have failed to mention his work with both of these sermon series. In the foreword Luther rightly praises Cruciger’s ability. Later Cruciger himself transcribed the sermons Luther delivered in 1537 on John 14-16 (Erlangen edition, vols. 49 and 50) and published them in 1538 (Mathesius, op. cit., fol. 133).

Now since at that time the sermons on John 16 and 17 were printed together and the sermons on John 14-17 seem to have been combined in one volume early on (cf. the bibliography below and Buchwald, “Stadtschreiber M. Stephan Roth in Zwickau” etc. in Archiv für Geschichte des Deutschen Buchhandels [Leipzig: Verlag des Börsenvereins der Deutschen Buchhändler, 1893], p. 195, no. 615), one may also reasonably apply what Mathesius says on fol. 133 (op. cit.) to John 17, when he relates that Luther “very often brought this book” containing the exposition of Christ’s final sermon during the Last Supper “with him to church and enjoyed reading from it.” Luther then gave voice to this fondness at his table, saying that “this was the best book he had produced. ‘Though I did not produce it,’ he said, ‘for it is Dr. Caspar Cruciger who has demonstrated his great intellect and outstanding diligence in it. After the Holy Bible this has to be my treasured and most beloved book.’” This exposition was also afforded enthusiastic praise later, e.g. by Timotheus Kirchner in his Deutscher Thesaurus (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Schmid, 1568). And Köstlin is correct in his judgment that whoever wishes to get acquainted with Luther’s style of preaching must especially include the sermons on John in his studies (Martin Luther: Sein Leben und seine Schriften, 2:427)5.

Poach’s Version of the Sermons on John 18-20

First Edition of 1557 (P1)
The editor named neither in the title nor in Amsdorf’s preface is the Erfurt pastor Andreas Poach. This is proven both by Poach’s reference to this first edition in the foreword to the second edition and by what he says in the letter cited just below. Poach, who first came to Wittenberg in 1530 and did not hear Luther’s sermons on John himself, designates Rörer’s transcript as his master copy in a letter to the privy council in Weimar (March 6, 1564; Theologische Studien und Kritiken, vol. 67 [1894], p. 377f). In that letter he also expresses himself concerning the circumstances which occasioned his work and its publication:

He [Rörer] also taught me himself to read his running handwriting and explained his customary characteres6 to me. He also entrusted me with a book containing the Passion sermons on the 18th and 19th chapters of John so that I could test myself on the characteres using that book. And my draft pleased Master Rörer and Master Stoltz so much that these Passion sermons were published in Jena and printed with a preface by the bishop Nikolaus von Amsdorf. And Master Stoltz entrusted his notebooks to me at that time.

As a matter of fact, Poach took pains to fill in the gaps in Rörer’s transcript already in his first version; whether he might have done so on the basis of the just-mentioned manuscripts of the court preacher Stoltz, we do not know. After the sermon on John 19:15-22, Poach remarks: “Here end the sermons of the man of God Dr. Martin Luther that he preached on the Passion in 1528 and 1529.7 What follows from here was taken from elsewhere, as indicated by the scholium that follows next.” This scholium is a marginal note that assigns the sermon on John 19:23-30 to Easter Eve of 1529 (p. 396 below). This appears to be a contradiction at first, for if what follows in Poach’s edition actually belongs to a sermon delivered on Easter Eve in 1529, then the note that Luther’s Passion sermons were concluded with John 19:22 is incorrect. But the contradiction can be resolved: Luther does in fact seem to have broken off the continuous Passion sermons on the Gospel of John at John 19:22, but we possess in Rörer’s transcript (published in Poach’s copied version by Buchwald, Andreas Poachs handschriftliche Sammlung, 1/1:113-118) a Passion sermon delivered on Easter Eve in 1529, which in fact mainly treats the text Luke 23:38-43, but in the middle also treats the text John 19:23-27. A comparative glance from Rörer-Poach (in Buchwald, op. cit., p. 114, 9th line from the bottom to p. 116, 3rd line from the top) to Poach in our text (P1, p. 396, line 25 to p. 405, line 31 below) clearly shows that Poach draws solely from that manuscript of Rörer here in his first version (while he patches in a lot of other material in the 2nd version; cp. e.g. our text, p. 397, line 12ff and p. 398, p. 10ff with the Erlangen edition, 2nd ed., 2:116). “Taken from elsewhere” accordingly means that it was taken from that sermon on Luke 23:38-43, in which the text John 19:23-27 was nevertheless also treated in passing (cf. the cue-words Milites [“The soldiers”] – which is how Militis should be read – and Accepit [“(He) took”] in Buchwald, op. cit., which refer to John 19, verses 23 and 27). One almost gets the impression from Rörer’s transcript that on Easter Eve in 1529 Luther wanted to continue the sermon series on John in passing and therefore combined the two just-named texts with each other. Whatever the case, Poach’s scholium cited above is subject to misunderstanding and only partially accurate.

The sermon that then follows after that, on John 19:31-37, has the marginal note: “The following piece was preached by Dr. Martin Luther on Easter Eve in 1533.” We find this sermon in Rörer’s notebook, Jena manuscript Bos. q. 24g, p. 121, with the house sermons. For the end of chapter 19, verses 38-42, Poach could not find any replacement whatsoever, so he leaves a gap here and immediately conveys his version of Rörer’s last two transcripts from June 12 and 19, 1529, on the beginning of the resurrection account according to John 20, verses 1-10 and 11-18. For the last piece he remarkably adds the marginal note: “Saturday after St. Vitus’ Day [June 15], i.e. Luther preached this sermon on the 19th of June in 1529,” even though he did not include the dates in Rörer’s manuscript elsewhere.

Thus Poach’s first version concludes with John 20:18. This version now also acquires a special contemporary interest due to Amsdorf’s preface, which we impart in the appendices in the back of the volume.

The trial work of Poach, instigated by Rörer (see above), was accordingly printed off “specially” at Rörer and Stoltz’s recommendation (cf. also Poach’s preface to the second version below) by order of the Saxon princes. “Specially” probably means separate from the Jena Tomi [tomes of the Jena edition of Luther’s works]. According to what Amsdorf says in the preface, this was in fact supposed to be done at the same time as two other writings – the “Confession” of the late Elector Johann Friedrich against the Augsburg Interim (cf. E. Julius Meier’s biography of Amsdorf in Meurer, ed., Das Leben der Altväter der lutherischen Kirche, 3:221) and a new edition of Luther’s Brief Confession concerning the Holy Sacrament (Erlangen edition 32:396ff; Köstlin, Martin Luther: Sein Leben und seine Schriften, 2:572ff). In view of the impending Colloquy of Worms (cf. Schmidt, Philipp Melanchthon: Leben und ausgewählte Schriften, p. 602ff)8, these three writings were apparently, according to Amsdorf’s preface, supposed to serve as a public warning against all Adiaphoristic, Majoristic, and Interimistic false doctrines. We have not been acquainted with any editions of that “Confession” of Johann Friedrich and of Luther’s Brief Confession from the year 1557. Nor have we come across any copy of the printing of P1 bound together with those two writings. Dr. Knaake in Naumburg possesses a later edition of the Confession of Johann Friedrich. Thus Amsdorf’s preface, to which Poach especially appeals for his work from 1557 in his letter dated March 6, 1564 (cf. above), is actually referring to other writings which he expected to appear at the same time, but whose publication is not verifiable and perhaps never took place. It is also worthy of special note that Amsdorf, at the very beginning of his foreword, not only mentions Luther’s sermons on John but also his sermons on Matthew, which had been “put…on paper and dispatched…to press [in Druck vorfertiget]” (which probably means: “prepared for print [für den Druck vorbereitet]”) from Rörer’s transcript. Perhaps he means the sermons on Matthew that were at one time located in the Jena codex Bos. o. 17m before the sermons on John (cf. p. 2 and above).

Poach’s Second Edition of 1566 (P2)
Poach dedicated his second version to Duke Johann Friedrich the Younger (or III). In the preface he justifies the new edition in the following way:

These articles of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ [whose twofold significance as a gift to be believed and as a pattern for our life he has just discussed in detail], as they were described by the holy Evangelist John and afterward preached and expounded on by the cherished man of God, Master Georg Rörer of blessed memory gave to me, as he had recorded them, about ten years ago. The idea was that I should test myself on them, to see whether I could decipher them. And when I had deciphered them as best I could, I turned the draft over to him and Master Johann Stoltz, the court preacher of blessed memory, and they had them printed at that time. But since no more copies were available and there was much demand for them, and since many Christians also desired that they be printed in the form of a handbook, I have gone through them again. In addition, I have been moved to do so by the fact that I was still inexperienced in such work at that time and my first draft reflected that. On top of that, in Master Georg Rörer’s inventory Luther’s exposition of the 19th chapter did not go all the way to the end so that I could carry his exposition all the way through that entire chapter. But now God has bestowed on me another inventory, belonging to a God-fearing and learned man who was also there to hear these sermons and wrote them down as Dr. Luther was preaching them. From this inventory I have supplied what was lacking in Rörer’s. I have issued this exposition, Gracious Prince and Lord, in Your Princely Grace’s name in all humility. In doing so I wanted to make it public to Your Princely Grace that the cherished man of God, whom I personally heard lecture and preach for eleven years, is the one I recognize and consider to be my prophet, master, and teacher, and I acknowledge now and intend to acknowledge until my end that I am his unworthy and feeble disciple. May God graciously help me to this end. Amen. …

For this version Poach does not seem to have consulted Rörer’s manuscript anew. He probably did not have access to it anymore, after he had offended the court in Weimar with an unauthorized edition of four previously unknown Luther sermons using the remains of Rörer’s notes (Theologische Studien und Kritiken, vol. 67 [1894], p. 375ff). But the definite assurance that he had located and utilized another Rörer-supplementing transcript in the meantime – an assurance whose accuracy we have no reason to question – gives the second version a critical significance all its own, in spite of its shortcomings. To be sure, he seems not to have used his other source – an “inventory” (i.e. a collection of notes [Niederschrift]), as he himself calls it – for a thorough revision of the first edition. Instead he seems to have used it mainly just to complete the parts that were lacking in Rörer’s manuscript, especially, as he emphasizes, to retrieve the missing exposition of the end of chapter 19. Accordingly, John 19 is concluded thus:

  1. The Easter Eve sermon on John 19:23-30 from 1529 (Xa) – which, as we have already seen, Poach included with some justification – is essentially unaltered in P2.
  2. The sermon on John 19:31-37 from 1533 (Xb), which was admittedly only used in P1 in a makeshift capacity, is replaced in P2 by a completely different sermon on the same verses (32a). And
  3. the gap in the exposition that existed in P1 is filled in with a sermon on John 19:38-42 (32b).

But P2 has not only completed the exposition of chapter 19; it has also extended the exposition of chapter 20 to 20:23. Poach did this by utilizing a Luther sermon from Easter Tuesday of 1529 (Xc). Poach made no mention of this in the foreword, nor was there any immediate reason for it, since this sermon does not come from the new transcript of sermons on John that he used. The original sermon is preserved for us in Rörer’s transcript; Poach’s copied version of it is found in Buchwald, Andreas Poachs handschriftliche Sammlung, 1/1:141ff. It thus does not belong to the series of Saturday sermons, the last of which was the one handed down by Rörer as such, from the Saturday after St. Vitus’ Day, June 19, 1529. Bugenhagen returned to Wittenberg on June 24; cf. Hering, Doktor Pomeranus, Johannes Bugenhagen, p. 78, 169.

In the sections that were already presented in the first edition by following Rörer’s notebook, manifold additions now appear, as well as (rare) abridgments, for the second edition. These are partly due to the liberal redacting of Poach, who like Joannes Aurifaber had learned how to think and write in Luther’s style, and partly due to borrowing from other sermons; e.g. for John 19:23-24 he conveys the spiritual interpretation by following the House Postil (Erlangen edition, 2nd ed., 2:115), then conveys the explanation of Jesus’ words to his mother by following the House Postil (ibid., 2:143).

Cf. Köstlin, Martin Luther: Sein Leben und seine Schriften, 2:155f.


1 Due to sickness e.g. on January 30 and February 6, 1529; cf. Burkhardt, Dr. Martin Luther’s Briefwechsel, p. 158, fn.; Küchenmeister, Dr. Martin Luther’s Krankengeschichte, p. 62; Buchwald, “Die letzten Wittenberger Katechismuspredigten vor dem Erscheinen des kleinen Katechismus Luthers” in Beiträge zur Reformationsgeschichte (Festschrift for Prof. Dr. J. Köstlin, 1896), p. 49, fn. 3. Due to participation in the visitations on January 9, 1529, at least (De Wette, Dr. Martin Luthers Briefe, Sendschreiben und Bedenken, 6:98; Enders, Dr. Martin Luther’s Briefwechsel, 7:39).

2 The editors Albrecht and Koffmane actually cited an edition of Mathesius’ sermons by G. Lösche, published in Prague in 1898, but I did not have access to this edition and thus cited a much earlier edition available on the internet. – trans.

3 Caspar Cruciger’s Leben in Das Leben der Altväter der lutherischen Kirche für christliche Leser insgemein aus den Quellen erzählt, ed. Moritz Meurer, vol. 2, part 2 (Leipzig & Dresden: Verlag von Justus Naumann, 1862). – trans.

4 Caspar Cruciger: Nach gleichzeitigen Quellen (Elberfeld: Verlag von R. L. Friderichs, 1862). – trans.

5 In Leben und ausgewählte Schriften der Väter und Begründer der lutherischen Kirche, ed. J. Hartmann, W. Möller, et al., II. Theil (Elberfeld: Verlag von R. L. Friderichs, 1875). Albrecht and Koffmane cited different editions of Köstlin’s work throughout this introduction, but I have located and cited all of their references in just the first edition, cited in this endnote. – trans.

6 A transliteration of the Greek word χαρακτῆρες, which means figures or letters, referring to Rörer’s particular shorthand abbreviations and symbols. On Rörer’s complex system of Latin-German shorthand, see D. Martin Luthers Werke: kritische Gesamtausgabe, vol. 29 (Weimar: Hermann Böhlaus Nachfolger, 1905), p. xvi ff, esp. p. xxii-xxiv. – trans.

7 Since Poach still conveys items from the manuscript after this, the stress is on the word Passion; the remainder deals with the account of the resurrection.

8 In Leben und ausgewählte Schriften der Väter und Begründer der lutherischen Kirche, ed. J. Hartmann, Lehnerdt, et al., III. Theil (Elberfeld: Verlag von R. L. Friderichs, 1861). – trans.