Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Luther: Rulers should drive, beat, choke, hang, burn, behead, and break upon the well of the vulgar masses

The following is from the web page Luther, Exposing the Myth, under the heading "Social Justice":

“God has given the law, and nobody observes it. He has in addition instituted rod masters, drivers and urgers; so then are rulers to drive, beat, choke, hang, burn, behead, and break upon the well of the vulgar masses” [Sermon delivered by Luther in 1526. Ref. Erlanger, Vol. XV, 2p. 276].

“Like the drivers of donkeys, who have to belabor the donkeys incessantly with rods and whips, or they will not obey, so must the ruler do with the people; they must drive, beat throttle, hang, burn, behead and torture, so as to make themselves feared and to keep the people in check”[Erlangen Vol 15, Pg. 276 ].

Luther Exposing the Myth says their stated purpose is to show that "from Luther’s own words we shall see him for what he really was, that is a rebellious apostate, who abandoned the faith and led many into apostasy from God under the guise of “reformation” in order to follow his perverse inclinations." With these quotes, they attempt to show Christ taught one should thirst after justice, while Luther says rulers are to enforce law by violent means.

Luther Exposing the Myth cites "Sermon delivered by Luther in 1526. Ref. Erlanger, Vol. XV, 2p. 276" and "Erlangen Vol 15, Pg. 276." There is no such thing as the Erlanger edition of Luther's works, it's Erlangen, referring to the Erlangen Edition of Luther's works. This out of print German / Latin edition of Luther's works was published in the 1800's. These two quotes cited by Luther, Exposing the Myth are the same quote. Luther, Exposing the Myth appears to have taken the first quote from this secondary source. Notice the similarities:

This source documents the quote as "Transcript of a sermon delivered by Luther in 1526. Ref. Enlanger Vol. XV, 2, p. 276." This secondary source may have taken the quote from Quizzes to a Street Preacher by Leslie Rumble. Rumble puts forth an alleged protestant myth, and then answers it:
77. [Luther] wanted freedom for all men.
That he certainly did not advocate. Luther was a strong defender of slavery. "Because God has given the law, and nobody observes it," he wrote. "He has in addition instituted rod-masters, drivers, and urgers; so then are rulers to drive, beat, choke, hang, burn, behead, and break upon the wheel the vulgar masses." (Erlangen, Vol. XV, 2, p. 276.) Again, he declares, "Slavery is not against the Christian Order, and he who says so lies." Weimar, Vol. XVI, p. 244.
Because of the similarities, Rumble may have taken the quote from this 1917 article:
Because God has given the law and knows that nobody observes it, He has in addition instituted rod-masters, drivers and urgers. So the Scripture by a similitude calls the rulers. They must be like men who drive mules. One must constantly cling to their necks and urge them on with whips, for else they will not move ahead. So then are the rulers to drive, beat, choke, hang, burn, behead and break upon the wheel the vulgar masses, Sir All. (Erlangen Ed., Vol. XV, 2, p. 276.)
The second quote may have been taken from Martin Luther- Hitler's Spiritual Ancestor by Peter Wiener. Wiener placed this 1526 quote in the midst of his discussion on the peasant's revolt of 1525:
He would have no criticism—Luther, who is reported to be the great champion of tolerance. “Those who thus blame my little book (against the peasants) must be warned to hold their tongues and to take care what they say; for most certainly they are insurgents at heart, therefore the authorities must keep an eye on such people and let them see that they are in earnest.” Indeed, Luther “attributed his pamphlet against the peasants to Divine inspiration.”
No, Luther would not retract a single word of his pamphlet or apologise for it as the offspring of momentary passion. Instead, he began to elaborate his new political theory, a theory which was so readily accepted in Germany. “Scripture speaking figuratively”, wrote Luther in 1526, “calls rulers drovers, taskmasters, and scourgers. Like the drivers of donkeys, who have to belabour the donkeys incessantly with rods and whips, or they will not obey, so must the ruler do with the people; they must drive, beat, throttle, hang, burn, behead and torture, so as to make themselves feared and to keep the people in check" (E15, 276).
The princes obeyed. A “brutal revenge” took place. Typical is the assertion of one of the princes: “I hope we are now going to play with heads as the boys play with marbles.”
It's possible Wiener took the quote from Johannes Janssen (or someone utilizing Janssen). Notice the similarities:
'Scripture, speaking figuratively,' wrote Luther in the year 1526, ' calls rulers drovers, task-masters, and scourgers. Like the drivers of donkeys, who have to belabour their animals incessantly with rods and whips, or they will not obey, so must the rulers do with the people' (with ' Herr Omnes,' as he calls them); ' they must drive, beat, throttle, hang, burn, behead, and torture, so as to make themselves feared and to keep the people in check. For God is not satisfied with our merely holding up the law before the people ; he requires that we should drive them to keep it. For if we only held it up before them, and did not compel them to carry it into practice, it would all come to nothing.
The primary references are correct. Erlangen XV page 276 can be found here (and the same text can be found here). It's also found in WA XX 247. It's from Ein ander Sermon am Tage der Opferung Christi im Tempel, Luca 2, 22-32  (Luther's Sermon on Luke 2:22-32, "Sermon on the Day of the Purification of Mary," February 2, 1526). The Text reads:

An English translation of this sermon is available in Joel Baseley, The Festival Sermons of Martin Luther (Michigan: Mark V Publications, 2005) pp. 244-258: "A Second Sermon on the Festival of the Presentation of the Infant Christ at the Temple."

Why would a sermon on Mary's purification would include such a comment? The fact of the matter is many of Luther's alleged Marian sermons have far more to say about other subjects rather than Mary. Luther was expounding upon the keeping of the law as stated in Luke 2:22-24. From this he launched in to a discussion on the burden of the law, and it's crushing condemnation of people before a holy God and the misery it brings upon people. Even those who keep some sort of outward appearance of keeping the law still haven't kept the law purely in their hearts. The law brings misery on mankind, because it condemns man of sin. Contrarily, Christ kept the law with a pure heart, even though he didn't need to. Luther states,
According to the outward mask we sure keep the law, put on a good show and grab hold of it with our fist. But of hearts shy away from it. We do it unwillingly. We have no desire to do by nature unless that Holy Ghost enlightens our heart with His grace. Therefore even if we keep the law with works, yet it is not done from pure and clean heart. For it is done for the sake of our own advantage reputation or out of fear of punishment.
Now since God has also given the law and He knows that no one keeps it, He is also the One who has made it a prison guard, driver and leash. For the Scripture designates this supervision [of the law] by comparing it to one who drives a stubborn mule, which one must always push and pull and drive with a stick or it will not move forward. So this supervision of the law must pummel you. It is always to drive, strike, throttle, hang, burn, behead, and torture you so that you fear. By this people are held in check. For God does not desire that the law merely be presented to the people, but rather that it also drive them, seize them with a fist and compel them to work. For only in this way are people preserved. If they are not forced then they will do nothing. That is because the heart cannot keep the law because it is completely against its nature.
So if there were no punishment in the world, there would be nothing in the world but the rule of death, adultery, thievery, robbery, manslaughter and every blasphemy. No one would be safe from one another. But when the supervision of the law is there and punishes gross scoundrels and blasphemers, the rabble must be contained by it. They will know they are not permitted to go forth so boldly and live their lives according to their own desires. So it is necessary that the driving of the law remains over people and those raging rebels. It always compels and drives as swine and wild animals are forced and driven.
So now if we must do the law and not like it, then we are an enemy of the law for it battles our lusts. But God has done all of this so that it makes us weary. By this we might learn to acknowledge our abilities, and what we are able to do. So we look at ourselves and say, "I, poor man, I must keep the law and I don't like to do it. Yes, I have absolutely no desire to do it. So then I must lose any reward and thanks that I would get for doing it, had I truly and gladly kept the law." In summary, all who are under the law do it unwillingly. So we are tortured by it, forced to keep it and yet earn no reward from it [Baseley, 248-249].

God has also instituted authorities to enforce law to keep society stable. In another treatise, Luther expounds similarly:
You must know that since the beginning of the world a wise prince is a mighty rare bird, and an upright prince even rarer. They are generally the biggest fools or the worst scoundrels on earth; therefore, one must constantly expect the worst from them and look for little good, especially in divine matters which concern the salvation of souls. They are God’s executioners and hangmen; his divine wrath uses them to punish the wicked and to maintain outward peace. Our God is a great lord and ruler; this is why he must also have such noble, highborn, and rich hangmen and constables. He desires that everyone shall copiously accord them riches, honor, and fear in abundance. It pleases his divine will that we call his hangmen gracious lords, fall at their feet, and be subject to them in all humility, so long as they do not ply their trade too far and try to become shepherds instead of hangmen [LW 45:113].
The editors of Luther's Works note on the word "executioner" used above:
The term stockmeyster, meaning “jailer,” is also used by Luther synonomously with Zuchtmeister for Paul’s “custodian” of Gal. 3:24–25. See his exegesis of the Nunc Dimittis in a sermon preached on the Day of the Purification of Mary, February 2, 1526, where the term must mean more than merely a guard or warden; it refers actually to one who flogs or otherwise inflicts legal punishment in execution of a sentence. WA 20, 247
[LW 45:113, fn 82].
Because the world is so wicked, Luther says in Trade and Usury (1524),
Streets must be be kept clean, peace established in cities, and justice administered in the land. Therefore one must let the sword strike transgressors vigorously and boldly, as St. Paul teaches (Rom. 13:4). For God wants non-Christians held in check to keep them from doing wrong or from committing wrong without being punished. Let no one imagine that the world can be governed without the shedding of blood. The temporal sword should and must be red and bloodstained, for the world is wicked and is bound to be so. Therefore the sword is God's rod and vengeance for it [ WA 15:302; LW 45:258; Ewald Plass, What Luther Says, III: 1156].
In the sermon in question, Luther goes on to compare fallen humanity's burden of being under the law with Christ who kept the law willingly and with a pure heart. Christ fulfilled the law with pleasure. He volunteered to keep the law. Christ did not fear the stockmeyster. In this 1526 sermon, Luther goes on to weave his exposition of the law into a presentation of the gospel.

Needless to say, Luther's theories on government are far more complicated than these simple quotes offered by Luther, Exposing the Myth. The interested reader should track down What Luther Says and read the twenty eight page double columned synopsis presented by Ewald Plass. Plass points out a number of factors in Luther's governmental theories, everything from Luther's attitude toward unjust rulers, as well as the fact that rulers should not rely on mere brute force. Not to be forgotten as well, Luther was a not a modern man. His notions of government reflect the collective thinking of his time period.

Luther, Exposing the Myth appears to be ignorant of Luther's theology concerning law and the two kingdoms. It chastises him for upholding his theory on civic obedience. Contrary also to Leslie Rumble, Luther was not advocating slavery. The concern was for a stable society, following Paul's concerns expressed in Romans 13. The simple point being made is that God has instituted government to proclaim and uphold civic law. This no Roman Catholic should disagree with. While the methods suggested by Luther are appalling by today's standards, they weren't so to the sixteenth century person. They were a fact of life.

Addendum #1
One of the quotes covered in this article is popularly found online as follows:
Like the mules who will not move unless you perpetually whip them with rods, so the civil powers must drive the common people, whip, choke, hang, burn, behead and torture them, that they may learn to fear the powers that be." (El. ed. 15, 276, quoted by O'Hare, in 'The Facts About Luther, TAN Books, 1987, p. 235.)
Here is a link to O'Hare's page. I'm including this version of the quote so it can get picked up in a search engine.

This blog entry is a revision of an entry I posted back in 2010. The original can be found here. Because so many sources are now available online, I'm revising older entries by adding additional materials and commentary, and also fixing or deleting dead hyperlinks. Nothing of any significant substance has changed in this entry from that presented in the former.

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