by Martin Luther, 1523
Source Works of Martin Luther Vol. III (Philadelphia Edition) pp. 403-428
The Teutonic Order, or Teutonic Knights of St. Mary’s Hospital at Jerusalem, grew out of the establishment of a field hospital during the siege of Acre in the winter of 1190-91, by pious merchants of Bremen and Lubeck. When these merchants returned to Germany in 1191 they turned over the hospital to the chaplain Conrad and the chamberlain Burkhard.
With the model of the Hospitallers or Knights of St. John the Baptist, later known as Knights of Malta, before them, these men together with other Germans, formed a brotherhood, adopted the rules of the Hospitallers, and named their hospital “The Hospital of St. Mary of the Germans in Jerusalem” “in the hope and confidence that when the Holy City was reconquered they would there establish a house which should become the mother, head and mistress of the entire Order.” The new Order was confirmed by popes Clement III in 1191 and Celestine in 1196; it won as a patron the emperor, Henry VI, who bestowed upon it its first possessions in the West. In 1198 it was changed into a military Order by the adoption of the rules of the Knights Templars in addition to those of the Hospitallers. Unlike both of these older Orders, the Teutonic Knights were a strictly national organization, none but Germans of noble birth being admitted to it. “Like the knights of other orders, the Teutonic Knights lived a semimonastic life under the Augustinian rule, and in the same way they admitted priests and half-brothers (servientes) into their ranks. Like the other two orders, the Teutonic Order began as a charitable society, developed into a military club, and ended as something of a chartered company, exercising rights of sovereignty on the troubled confines of Christianity. Even in its last phase the Order did not forget its original purpose: it maintained several great hospitals in its new home on the southeast shore of the Baltic, in addition to an hotel des invalides at Marienburg for its sick or aged brethren.” F550 Under its fourth grand master, Hermann von Salza, 1210-39, the Order grew rapidly and made the most important advance in its history. After having aided the king of Hungary against the Comans, and receiving from the king the district of Burzenland in Transylvania, which it did not long retain, the Order was invited to assist in subduing the heathen Prussians. A Cistercian monk named Christian had succeeded in establishing the Church among the Prussians, and in 1212 was made bishop of Prussia. When the heathen arose and destroyed his churches, Christian called upon the Teutonic Knights for help and bestowed upon them Kulm, some of the frontier towns and such lands as they should conquer (1228). After driving the enemy out of Kulm and founding the cities of Kulm, Thorn and Marienwerder, the Order began the task of conquering and Christianizing Prussia. In 1235 it absorbed the Order of Dobrzin, which had been founded by bishop Christian, and in 1237 the Knights of the Sword of Livonia, founded by Albert, bishop of Riga, became a province of the Order.
Its successes in Prussia changed the character of the Teutonic Order. It lost all connection with the East, its grand master moved his seat from Acre, first to Venice in 1291, then in 1308 to Marienburg on the Vistula. The Order became a governing aristocracy, its statutes were altered to suit the new conditions. “The Order was at once supreme ecclesiastical and political authority .... The lay subjects of the Order consisted of two classes: on the one hand there were the conquered Prussians, in a position of serfdom, bound in time of war to serve the brethren in foreign expeditions; on the other hand there were the German immigrants, both urban and rural, along with the free Prussians, who had voluntarily submitted and remained faithful.” f551 By the middle of the fourteenth century the Teutonic Knights had become a world power. Their cities belonged to the Hanseatic League and shared in its power; Poland had been deprived of its outlet on the Baltic; the ships of the Order were a power on the sea; Marienburg with its brilliant court was not merely a school of chivalry, but for a time a literary center. Yet the downfall of the Order was close at hand. It alienated its subjects, who allied themselves with Poland; its missionary work was completed when the Lithuanians became Christians and also made common cause with Poland; the Slav reaction made the Germanizing efforts of the Knights still more unpopular. Internally the success of the Order brought with it a secularization which was disastrous. Poland regained a foothold on the Baltic. The Prussian League was formed in 1440 with the real purpose of opposing the Knights, and in 1454 offered Prussia to the Polish king. The peace of Thorn, 1466, left to the Order only East Prussia and made the knights vassals of Poland. But the German master and the Landmeister for Livonia would not serve Poland, and the Order in East Prussia adopted the policy of electing German princes as grand masters in the hope of again regaining independence, without success. The first of these German grand masters was Frederick of Saxony, 1498 to 1511. He was succeeded by Albert of Brandenburg. f552 Albert became involved in a devastating war with Poland, which was provisionally ended by a four years’ truce made in 1521. In September of that year Albert suggested the possibility of a revision of the statutes of the Order by Luther, probably in harmony with the plans outlined in the Open Letter to the German Nobility. So far as known Luther was not consulted at that time. Albert continued to take his place with the Roman Catholic princes. But when in April, 1522, he returned to Germany he came under the influence of Lazarus Spengler and Andreas Osiander and was won for the evangelical party. During the Diet at Nuremberg, 1522- 23, he protested that it was not the proper way to proceed against Luther, “if evident truth be condemned and books burned.”
Pope Hadrian VI urged upon Albert a reformation of the Order. In June, 1523, Albert secretly turned to Luther for advice concerning the reformation of the Order in head and members. On November 29th the two met at Wittenberg, and Luther advised Albert “to throw aside the foolish and absurd rules of the Order, to marry, and to convert the religious state into a secular state, either a principality or a duchy.” Melanchthon, who was present at the interview, gave the same advice. The grand master smiled and said nothing. But “with that evangelical protestant advice Luther laid the foundations for the development of the Prussian state, of the Prussian kingdom, and of the German empire which is inseparable from the development of the Prussian kingdom.” f554 Soon after this meeting Luther prepared the following treatise, intended, as Kawerau suggests, to be a “feeler, which should test the attitude of the knights of the Order as well as of the Prussian bishops, and prepare them for coming events.” The older collected editions of Luther’s works date the treatise March 28, 1523. But, as Kawerau points out, it is improbable that the treatise was written before the last month of 1523, and the date may be a mistake for December 12th. The original prints are undated; the editors may have confused the festivals of the Annunciation and of the Conception of the Virgin Mary, the latter of which may have been the date attached to the manuscript.
After the evangelical principles had been gradually introduced into Prussia by the two bishops, Georg von Polentz and Erhard von Queiss, the grand master returned to Prussia and carried out Luther’s suggestion. Peace was made with Poland, Prussia was converted into a duchy held as fief of the king of Poland and hereditary in the family of Albert. July 1, 1526, Albert was married to Dorothea, the daughter of the Danish king, and thus was founded the evangelical house of the Hohenzollern.
The progress of the Gospel in Prussia gave Luther much joy. In 1525 he wrote to the Bishop of Samland, Georg von Polentz: “Behold the wonder!
In rapid course, with full sails, the Gospel hastens to Prussia, whither it was not called, and where it was not sought after, while in Upper and Lower Germany, whither it came of its own accord, it is blasphemed, repelled and put to flight with all rage and madness.” f556 The Teutonic Order in its German and Livonian branches continued to exist, and laid claim to the rights of the Order in Prussia. It was finally suppressed in 1809, and its lands passed into the hands of the secular princes within whose territories they lay. But in 1840 the Order was resuscitated in Austria, and again engaged in hospital service, in which it is presumably active during the present war. But this Teutonic Order is not the same as that which became secularized at the time of the Reformation.
The Prussian branch passed into the Prussian kingdom, not into the restored Order. A Protestant branch exists in the ancient bailiwick of Utrecht, the members of which must profess the Calvinistic faith, and are dispensed from celibacy. See Catholic Encyclopedia, xiv, 542.
The subject of the monastic vows and of the marriage of monks had been discussed at great length before this treatise was written. For the development of that discussion we must refer here to the introduction to the Treatise on Monastic Vows, which was excluded from this volume because of its size. But the careful student will find that Luther has not merely repeated older arguments nor restated older positions. He has gone farther, his position is more advanced. In fact, upon the advance beyond the position taken in the Formula Missae Kawerau bases an argument for the later date of our treatise. “For the writing of this treatise immediately after the FormuIa Missae we find an argument in the remarkable agreement between the statements in the two concerning those who want to wait for decrees of a council and desire permission to be given them (to use the two kinds in the Lord’s Supper, or, in the later treatise, to marry) by such decrees. He who reads the analogous portions in the two treatises will easily recognize in the Exhortation to the Teutonic Knights the bold heightening of the thought to a paradox, and thus see in the Formula Missae the older form.” f558 The German text is found in Weimar Ed., xii, 232-244; Walch Ed., xix, 2157-76; Erlangen Ed., xxix 16-33; St. Louis Ed., xix, 1730-45; Berlin Ed., iv, 32-47. Literature : Introduction by KAWERAU in Weimar Ed., xii, 228-31; Prot. Realencyklopadie, 3d ed., Arts., Albrecht von Preussen, I, 310-23; Deutschorden, iv, 589-95; Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th ed., Arts., Albert, i, 497, and Teutonic Order, xxvi, 676-9. The literature is given fully in all these articles. Compare also Schaff, Church History, vi, 588-600, and Kostlin-Kawerau, Martin Luther, i, 620-623. W. A. LAMBERT. LEBANON,PA.
TO THE KNIGHTS OF THE TEUTONIC ORDER:
That They Lay Aside False Chastity And Take Upon Them The True Chastity Of Wedlock MARTIN LUTHER GRACE and peace in Christ. Amen.
Marvel not, dear Knights of the Teutonic Order, that I have made bold to address to you a special writing, and to advise you to give up your unchaste chastity and to marry. My intentions are altogether good. Besides, many sincere and intelligent men regard it as not merely helpful, but even necessary, to look to you to do this, because your order is indeed a unique order, differing from others most of all in that it was founded for the purpose of making war against the infidels. It must therefore wield the worldly sword and be a secular order at the same time that it is to be a spiritual order and make and keep the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience like other monks. How that combination works, daily experience and reason teach us only too well.
Although I have in other books written quite enough about the abomination of “spiritual” chastity and have proved convincingly that such a vow is nothing at all and is not to be kept, unless a man have God’s special grace (which grace can, however, work not only chastity, but all things else just as well without such a vow and law); yet I have not been able to refrain from sending the members of your order a special exhortation on the subject. I have a strong opinion and a great hope that your order can set an excellent and powerful precedent for all other orders if it should be the first to take this course. It might lead to a decrease of unchastity elsewhere also and to a more rapid increase of the fruit of the Gospel.
For, first of all, your order has the advantage of being provided with the necessities of life. Its wealth can be distributed among the knights so that they can become landholders and overseers, or enter some other sphere of usefulness. You do not suffer from that miserable poverty which keeps many a mendicant friar and other monks in the monastery in order to provide for their stomachs. A Teutonic knight living in that way could none the less be sent to war or on any service for which he might be needed, and even more easily than under present conditions. In time the order might develop into a true order of knighthood which would be free from hypocrisy and a false name in God’s sight, and acceptable to the world.
Secondly, scarcely anyone will doubt that the Teutonic Order would in that case be less burdensome and more acceptable to all its subjects than it is at present. For it is notorious that as things are now neither God nor the world derives much benefit from it. Besides, the knights are suspected and disliked because every one knows how rare chastity is, and every man must be afraid for his wife and daughter. For they who are not married cannot be trusted very far, since even they that are married must be constantly on their guard lest they fall, although among them there is more justification for hope and confidence. Among the unmarried there is neither hope nor confidence, but only constant fear.
Thirdly, we may confidently expect that the Teutonic Order would not be injured by such a procedure, and there is no reason to fear that the knights might be attacked because of it; especially if the change grew out of a Christian understanding of the matter and had the approval and welcome of your subjects, as was suggested above. And no doubt there are also many prominent knights who would be glad for it, inasmuch as they really desire to live decent lives. Although some would make wry faces about it at first, they would outgrow that by and by, or their displeasure would at most be harmless. It is to be hoped at any rate that from now on few people will become monks and “spiritual,” because the Gospel is beginning to shine, and it reveals that “spirituality” in such a way that they who are now the last and will remain the last will be compelled to provide for themselves as best they can.
Although these are human considerations which have weight only with the world, and because of which nothing that is to be valid in God’s sight must either be done or left undone, begun or changed, yet they must be considered because they make this matter acceptable in the eyes of the people. For we have stronger and more worthy arguments than these to prove that it is pleasing to God. With God we would soon be at one on this subject and reach a definite agreement with Him. It is the world that is fastidious and hard to please in things that concern God; therefore we must put forth such arguments in order that we may at least present a little proof to that poor devil’s-whore, and thereby do all we can to quiet and humor her. If she accepts that proof, good; if not, we will bid her goodday, and in spite of her do the right and leave undone the wrong. It is enough that it pleases God.
We will therefore set down several arguments which are valid before God, to prove that the estate of marriage is well-pleasing to Him. God says in Genesis 2:18, “It is not good that the man be alone; I will make him an help who shall be about him,” etc. These are words of God, and cannot be understood except by faith. For neither reason nor nature can understand that a wife is an help to her husband. Rather, every one writes and cries out about it as we see and hear, and on this point all the world must regard God as a liar. And that is why the pope has also become God’s teacher and made the decree in his canon law, that a wife is not an help, but a hindrance to the service of God; therefore he who would serve God must not have a wife. And that is true; the god whom the pope serves cannot be served by the work of our God.
This was foretold of the pope long ago by the Prophet Daniel, who says in Daniel 11:37, “He shall not understand married women,” or “he will not respect married women. But harlots he was to respect, and worse than that. But he who would be a true Christian must grant that this saying of God is true, and believe that God was not drunk when He spoke the words and instituted marriage. Well, if I had made a thousand vows, and if a hundred thousand angels, not to mention a poor maggot-bag or two like the pope, were to say that I should do without a helpmate, and that it is good to be alone, what would I care for those vows and commands when they are set up against this word, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make an help for him”? Unless it should happen that God Himself by some miracle made an exception of me, inasmuch as St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:7, it must be a special gift.
Now contrast God and man! God says, “I desire that you have an help and be not alone, and to Me that arrangement seems good.” Man says, “Not so, Thou art mistaken; I vow to Thee to do without an help, and to me it seems good to be alone.” What is this but to correct God? And what is it to correct God but to exalt one’s self above God? How can such a vow or command possibly be valid or binding? Rather, how could such a vow possibly escape being worse than any form of adultery or unchastity? What good fortune could befall such a vow and such chastity, which without the support of a divine miracle is based only on a man’s own wanton choice and so blasphemously contradicts God’s word? If God has worked a miracle, there is no need of a vow. If God has not worked a miracle, the vow is contrary to God and blasphemes God’s Word and work.
But let us hear some of the things they say in their blind folly. Their favorite arguments, of which they boast loudly, are these: That this estate of chastity and the vow are an ancient tradition, taught and confirmed by very many councils and holy fathers since the days of the Apostles and are now accepted as such throughout the world. They argue that it is not to be believed that God would have permitted so many people to err throughout so long a period of time. Good. But if I were to ask them whether they were willing to die for their conviction that so old a practice is not wrong and that the councils and fathers have not erred, they would think twice when death drew near. But now that they live they boldly and bravely say and write that men ought to believe what they themselves would then seriously doubt. Well, let them die in that faith; I will not.
But what do they have to say to the fact that God is more ancient than all their councils and fathers? Then, too, He is greater and counts for more than all councils and fathers. Scripture also is more ancient and counts for more than all councils and fathers. Furthermore, the angels are all on the side of God and the Scripture. Further, the practice which existed from the time of Adam is also more ancient than the practice which originated with the popes. If age, therefore, length of years, the greatness, the number and the holiness of men, are sufficient reason for believing anything, why do they believe men, whose history dates back only a short time, and why do they not believe God, Who is the most ancient, the most, the greatest, the most holy, the most mighty of all? Why do they not believe all the angels, when one of them counts for more than all the popes? Why do they not believe the Scripture, one saying of which has more authority than the books of the whole world? Why do they not believe the human nature which is in us by God’s creation, since one work of God is mightier than all the words, thoughts and dreams of all men and devils? (Antiquity as an Authority) We ought, indeed, if there were a spark of reason in us, to be heartily ashamed to harbor a single doubt, to say nothing of raising objections, when we hear God’s Word, at the sound of which all angels bow and every creature is astonished. Now here we have a word of God, which says, “Thou shalt not be alone, but have an help, unless I make other provision for thee.” Before this word we ought to tremble and be afraid, as all angels and all creatures from the beginning of the world bear witness. Instead we come along and exalt high above it a vow that we made yesterday and a dream of the pope that is of recent origin; we must even hear men’s comment, “Such a vow cannot err, God has not permitted these fathers to make a mistake”! Thus it is to pass belief that poor men can err who live and dream for a moment, and it is to be worthy of belief that the everlasting God does err in His Word and works, and that all angels and creatures make mistakes. Fie, fie, fie! How unspeakable is our blindness, how mad and senseless our blasphemy! ( Job 26:11) ( Genesis 2:18) But so it must be: God’s Word must be the most marvelous thing in heaven and on earth. That is why it must at one and the same time do the two opposite works, give perfect light and glory to those who believe, and bring utter blindness and shame upon those who do not believe it. To the former it must be the most certain and best known of all things, to the latter it must be the most unknown and most hidden of all things. The former must praise and bless it above all things, the latter must blaspheme and slander it above all things, in order that in this way it may have its perfect course and accomplish no small works, but strange, terrible works in the hearts of men. As St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:3, that our Gospel, if it is hidden, is hidden in them that are lost.
They have another very fine way of proving their position. They will yield to us so far as to admit that we are correct and that this is what God has said in the Scripture; but they claim that the Church has changed and abrogated all that, and therefore men must not marry unless a Council reaffirm what God has said and grant them permission, in order that the decrees of the Church may not be broken and obedience to the church be maintained. Certainly, may God make obeisance to you, dear younkers!
That were fine, to give to you the honor that belongs to God and to exalt you above Him, and then to say, “It is right and must be done because you permit it; but even if God did command it, and, as you yourselves admit, clearly wants men to do it, yet it would not be right nor ought it be done unless you also added your advice and consent.” Who gave you power to change a word of God, to abrogate it and to restore it? So then, we are to lead God to school and smooth the feathers of the Holy Ghost! Tell me, who has ever heard a more abominable abomination? And these are the utterances of men who claim to rule over souls!
We, on the contrary, state our position thus: Councils may make decisions and pass decrees in matters that are temporal or that have not yet been clearly set forth. But when we can plainly see what is God’s Word and will, we will wait neither for councils nor for the decrees and decisions of the Church, but rather fear God and boldly do according to that Word and will of God without stopping to think whether councils shall be called or not.
For I am not willing to wait until councils decide whether we are to believe in God the Father, Maker of heaven and earth, in His only Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, in the Holy Ghost, etc. And just so with all other manifest, clear and certain portions of the Scriptures which it is necessary and profitable for me to believe. For, suppose the councils should delay, and I should have to die before they reached a decision, where should my soul stay meanwhile, since it is not to know what to believe, but await the decision of the Councils, and yet I need faith here on earth?
I say further, Though one, two, a hundred, a thousand and even more councils should decree that “spiritual” men might marry, or anything else which the Word of God has already decreed shall be done or left undone, I would rather look through my fingers and trust to God’s mercy in the case of a man who had all his lifelong kept one, two or three whores than in the case of a man who had married a wife in obedience to the decrees of such councils, and without such a decree would not venture to marry. And I would in the name of God command and advise all men that any man who would not lose his soul’s salvation must not take a wife on the strength of such a decree, but rather live in stricter chastity than before; or if that were impossible for him, he should not despair in his weakness and sin, but call upon God’s help. And I will give my reason.
Fornication or unchastity is indeed a great sin, but compared with blasphemy it is slight. For even Christ Himself says in Matthew 11:22, that it shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah, although their sins exceeded simple unchastity, than for Capernaum, Bethsaida, and all the great saints and Pharisees of that time. And in Matthew 21:31 He says further that harlots and sinners shall go into the kingdom of heaven before the Pharisees and scribes, although these were pious, chaste and honorable men. Why? Because they resisted the words of God, the Gospel, whereas harlots and sinners, although they did sin, at least did not resist the Gospel.
Now this applies to our case thus: He who takes a wife on the authority of the decrees of men or in accordance with the decisions of councils, and without them would not do so, although he already has the derision and decree of God enabling him to do so, despises the Word of God in his heart and tramples it underfoot; for he exalts men above God, and trusts more in the words and teachings of men than in the Word and teachings of God. In so doing he acts directly contrary to faith, denies God Himself, and sets up men as false gods in the place of God. In this way his body becomes lawfully married and chaste outwardly, through the nonsense of men, but his soul within him becomes a twofold harlot and adulteress through unbelief, distrust, despising of God, idolatry and denial of God’s holy Word; and who can enumerate all the abominations of such an apostate heart? Is not this a fine change in a man’s chastity, to become lawfully married outwardly, and doubly unmarried inwardly? Behold, then, how faithful are the thoughts of those who want to bring relief in this matter by means of their councils and decrees, and do away with obedience to the Word of God!
How much smaller, do you suppose, is the sin of him who keeps a whore than of him who takes a wife under those conditions, and how much nearer to God’s mercy is he? Especially if that fornicator would most gladly be married and yet is compelled by the weakness of his nature and the authority of men who forbid him to marry, and so is driven into sin? Do you not think that God will look upon his heart which would gladly do according to God’s Word, and acknowledges it too, and does not deny it, and gives God the honor due to Him in His Word? Will not God be so much the more merciful to him because he is disgraced in the eyes of the world? Although I hold that such a case will never occur. For to him to whom God grants a knowledge of His Word, He will also grant chastity, or else He will permit him to live in a secret marriage, or will strengthen him if he contracts a public marriage and is persecuted and made to suffer because of it. f572 Therefore if any “spiritual” man wants to marry, let him hold before himself God’s Word, rely upon it, and in God’s name marry, regardless of whether councils precede or follow. Let him say, God says in Genesis i and ii that I am a man and you a woman, and that we shall and must come together in order to multiply; from that no one can and no one shall prevent us, nor forbid us to do it; nor do we have it in our power to vow to do otherwise.
Relying upon that word we make the venture and do it, in sheer despite and contradiction of all councils and churches, all decrees of men, all vows, customs and all things else that may be or ever have been opposed to it.
Let us close eyes and ears, and take only God’s Word into our hearts! And if councils and men were to permit and allow us to do so in future, we do not desire their permission, and because of their permission we will neither do nor leave undone anything.(Genesis 1 and 2) For I will not be satisfied if councils or the church, as they understand it, shall permit or decree such a change; nor do I desire to be beholden to them for it, nor ask it of them, nor request it of them. They shall and must do it, and not that alone; first of all, they shall restore to God the honor due Him, and confess openly before all the world that in forbidding marriage they have contradicted God and His holy Word like the soulmurderers they are, and have flooded the whole world with unchastity, condemned the Word of God, made the devil their false god and exalted themselves above God, and thus, through the sheer inspiration of the devil instead of the Holy Spirit, have been no bishops and teachers, but wolves, thieves, murderers and seducers.
Let them first of all confess these abominations, repent of them and make satisfaction for them, and in this way of their own accord humble themselves before the whole world and once more honor the Word of God which they have so shamefully suppressed, blasphemed and dishonored throughout the world. As soon as they do this, and no sooner, we will acknowledge and heed their permission. Yes, you say, but when will that be? When will they do that? Well then, let them keep their councils and decisions, and live according to them; we will not be guided by them, we will neither hear nor see them. I also know quite well they will not do it, for they wish to be admired, and not to be looked upon as men who have been in error until now. But we will yet succeed in teaching them that they must do it, whether they intend to or not. They shall be put to shame openly, as Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:9, whether they do it willingly or unwillingly; just that and nothing else, even though their number were ten times as great as it is, and every one of them had as much power as all put together have now.
God’s Word will do it; it is even now breaking forth and disclosing their shame. That light they shall not extinguish. The more they try to extinguish it the more they will blow upon it and cause it to burn brighter. That is what is already happening, however much they rage and are vexed. It shall not help them at all to say, “Can one impotent monk be wiser than the whole world?” Yes, the monk is impotent, but Another shall be omnipotent, and make all of them impotent enough. Trust confidently to that. For that the true God should let men shape His nose to suit themselves, and permit His Word, to which He has pledged Himself, to avail only in case it should please the poor filthsacks, that I leave them to hope, as they deserve. But they shall learn the truth in time.
In olden times the Romans did the same thing. They had brought together in their city the gods of all peoples; but when they heard of Jesus Christ that some men regarded Him as a God, they would not recognize Him as a God, for no other reason than that there was no decree of the Roman senate authorizing it, and the belief had originated elsewhere. For these proud men thought that they had the power to say who should be a god, and that no one else dare be a god. What was this else than to say, “We Roman senators are gods above all gods, and may make gods of whomsoever we will”? And that was what they did. Therefore Christ could not become God among them. That is what our younkers are doing now with their councils. God’s Word is to wait and not be God’s Word until they give it permission.
Yes, they are worse than the Romans, for the Romans would at least have made a god of him who was regarded as a god. Our council-younkers want to decree what is entirely their own, and then it is to be right merely because they decree it, no matter whether God has spoken before or not, whether there was a God before or not. And they have the idea that, if God should speak a word even in our day, they ought to have authority to pass judgment and sentence upon it, to decree, abrogate, permit, or forbid it; in every way they regard our God as a piece of soft wax which they can mould into a pig or a crow or whatever other form they wish. That is the way the Jews also turned God into a golden calf. These things are indeed horrible and abominable, and enough to cause the heart of a Christian to break.
But it is my hope that Christ has preserved for Himself some bishops, or will yet preserve them, so that they will take serious thought and come to the true knowledge of God and either give up their horrible and abominable office or restore it to the condition of a true episcopal office.
And even if not one should be converted, or the conversions be kept secret, yet we who have the clear Word of God must not hold back, nor look behind us to see what their decisions are or whether they follow us.
For Christ was unwilling that St. Peter should ask or concern himself about what John or any one else would do, but said, “What is that to thee? follow thou Me”; as much as to say, Since you have My word, it is your duty to go your way and do its bidding, and to leave the others to Me, whether they follow or do not follow.( John 21:20 ff.)
Therefore everyone, though he were as hard as a stone, ought deservedly to be frightened when he hears and feels that his vow of celibacy, unless God has worked a miracle, goes beyond and contradicts this word of God, “It is my will that you be not alone, but have an help,” and that celibates live under the terrible sentence in which Daniel says, “He will not respect married women,” which is as much as to say, It is true that he will avoid married women, not because he loves chastity or serves God, as he will pretend in order to deceive the world, but that he may have an easy life and be spared the worries and difficulties of married life, and yet neither live chastely nor serve God, but be so much the freer to practice harlotry and knavery. That is because he does not understand the words of God in which He says it is not good for a man to be alone. For, as was said above, these words are spirit and life, as are all the words of God, and must be understood by faith; so that their meaning is not that this good is good for the flesh (nay, it is trouble, as St. Paul says), but for the spirit. For in God’s sight it is a precious and noble good work to train and educate children, to rule wife and servants in a godly manner, to earn one’s living in the sweat of one’s face, and to endure much misfortune and many difficulties in the person of wife, children, servants and others. Such good does not make much show. “It is an evil,” says the pope, “and hinders a man in his service of God,” that is to say, it is a hindrance to pleasant, lazy living. But he who believes it and rightly understands it, sees how good it is for the soul, although it is an evil for the flesh and its lusts. ( Genesis 2:18) ( Daniel 11:37) ( John 6:63) ( 1 Corinthians 7:28) For this reason also God has done marriage the honor of putting it into the Fourth Commandment, immediately after the honor due to Him, and commands, “Thou shalt honor father and mother.” Show me an honor in heaven or on earth, apart from the honor of God, that can equal this honor!
Neither the secular nor the spiritual estate has been so highly honored. And if God had given utterance to nothing more than this Fourth Commandment with reference to married life, men ought to have learned quite well from this Commandment that in God’s sight there is no higher office, estate, condition and work (next to the Gospel which concerns God Himself) than the estate of marriage. ( Exodus 20:12) But many still come with the old argument, and waste much breath over it, that it is dishonorable for a man to make a vow of chastity to God and not to keep it, since even in the eyes of the world he who does not keep his vow and becomes a perjurer is branded as faithless and dishonorable. Some of the nobility especially work themselves blue in the face with such foolish talking, and they most of all who ought indeed to make many vows and prate much about the making of vows, but have made little effort to keep any vows at all; they have never in their lives seriously thought of wanting to keep the least bit of what they so solemnly vowed to God in their baptism, nor of acknowledging that they still owe it; so entirely does the beam in their own eyes escape their notice, and so clearly do they see the splinter in other men’s eyes. (Argument for Keeping the Vow) ( Matthew 7:3 ff.)
They are rude, hardened hearts, which neither feel things themselves nor will learn from others, like the smiths’ anvils, as Job says; they will have their mad way! How often shall I say that a vow which cannot be kept and is made contrary to God’s Word is no vow and must not be kept? It is like the man who says, “My mother made a vow that I should become a bishop.” Now, if I were to ask them if a man who vowed to commit adultery or to kill an innocent man, must keep his vow, or whether I must keep my vow if I have vowed to cling to the sky and to ride on the sunbeams, or to float upon the clouds, I hope they would have to say, No; the first vow would be wrong and must not be kept, and the second would be foolish and could be trusted to keep itself from being fulfilled. ( Job 41:15) In this case also I say, therefore, We are all created to do as our parents did, to beget and raise up children. This is a duty which God has laid upon us, commanded us and implanted in us, as is proved by the members of our bodies, by our daily emotions, and by the example of all men. Now if God Himself does not perform a miracle, and you remain unmarried and vow chastity, you do exactly the same as he who vows adultery or something else that God has forbidden. And we see and understand how it remains unfulfilled of itself, because it is an impossible and foolish vow, and why unchastity grows only the more rampant and shameful, until it has become unmentionable. Yet these obdurate men wish to compel a man not to feel that he has a man’s body, and a woman not to feel that she has a woman’s body.
One more point needs to be considered. I have scarcely a doubt that many a bishop, abbot, and other members of the spiritual estate would marry if they were not the first, if they had abundant precedent and such marriage had become customary, so that it no longer brought disgrace or danger upon a man, but was approved and honorable in the sight of the world.
Indeed, who would not wish that? What do we say to this objection? If you have God’s Word, which you ought and can obey, and wait for others to do it first, it is just as if I were to say, I will not believe in God nor serve Him before I see all Turks and heathen and Jews believing and serving God. Wait, if you will. But in the meantime you will go to the devil with the heathen and the Jews, because you despise God’s Word, and are willing to serve Him not for His own sake, but for the sake of other men, and in so doing honor and regard men more than God and His Word.
These I may liken to Lot’s wife, who also looked behind her to see what the men of Sodom and Gomorrah were doing, and was turned into a pillar of salt. For she too had received a command not to look behind her, but to obey the word of the angel without turning. Christ Himself makes a similar application in Luke 17:31, where He speaks of the evil days and of how men shall be led astray and deceived, and gives warning that no one shall think of what is behind him nor turn again into his house to take anything, and says, “Remember Lot’s wife”; which was as much as to say, in the words He spoke to Peter, “Follow thou me.” Let him who tarries tarry, let him who waits wait; do thou look upon no one, but upon My word alone, and then go boldly forward. This is what we also in these perilous times must do in this matter of marriage; if you feel your nature and now know that God wishes you to be married, you must go ahead, although you be the first and only one to marry, regardless of what all men, friends and foes, sing and say about it. If you are put to shame and slandered for it, know this: God’s Word is greater, His praise is mightier, His testimony is more glorious than that of all men, even if there were more than a thousand worlds full of them. ( Genesis 19:26) ( Genesis 19:17) ( John 21:22) And since you abstain from marriage or put it off not out of regard for God, but only out of regard for the world, you can readily see whom you are serving, and that all your living in chastity meanwhile is labor lost. He who wants to wait until the world speaks well of divine things or is not offended in them, must indeed wait long. But it is abominable that the devil has brought it to pass that among Christians a man must be timid, afraid and worried even about getting married, although marriage has from the beginning been and still is free and honorable even among the heathen and throughout the world. So completely has he by means of the papal government destroyed all of God’s Word and work, and for the first time raises the question whether it is a man’s duty and privilege to be a man, and whether the vow by which he vows not to be a man is valid.
But that is right and proper for the world; that is the way its god and prince, the devil, must govern it. For it does the same in all other things as well. Theft is the smallest sin in God’s sight, because it affects only temporal goods; but the world punishes it more severely than all others.
Next to it comes adultery, which is a much greater sin; and that is now unpunished throughout the world. Next comes murder; and that brings a man honor in the world, if he is bold and wicked enough to slay a man.
But greater than all these, the miserable worship of God practised by the spiritual estate is the worst of all sins on earth, contrary to God’s majesty, honor, Word and work; and that is not only unpunished, but claims the greatest honor, wealth, power and friends, and everything else on earth, as if it were altogether holy, heavenly, divine.
But in order that this letter may not grow too lengthy, my dear knights, and since I have written so much on this subject, I will now end, and humbly beg you in the Lord and exhort you as a friend, in the words of St. Paul, “Receive not the grace in vain.” For it is written in Isaiah 49:8, “I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I helped thee. Behold, now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation.” The Word of God is clear and calls you; you have reason and occasion enough to give heed to it, even for the sake of temporal wealth; the peril of consciences and of daily sins in the weak flesh urges you; the impossibility of keeping the foolish vow compels you; the spiritual estate and order in itself is worthless; we are not to wait for a council nor put off marrying until a council has decided the question, because we have the command and demand of the Word of God; nor are we to delay and see what others are doing, but you and every one must break the way for himself, rush into the Jordan before king David, now that he is coming again into his kingdom and his son Absalom, the rebel, is dead. ( 2 Corinthians 6:1,2) ( 2 Samuel 19:10 ff.)
All things urge, compel, invite and incite you at this time; you will greatly honor God and His Word and give weak consciences a comforting example, so that God’s Word may again be kept. There is nothing to hinder you from this course except the foolish opinion of the mad world which will say, “Well, are the Teutonic Knights doing that?” But since we know that even the prince of this world is judged, we are not to doubt that this and every other opinion of the world is already condemned in God’s sight. Only go to it boldly and confidently; set God before your eyes in true faith, turn your back upon the world with its grumbling, its loud and angry objections, and neither listen nor look how Sodom and Gomorrah are sinking behind you or what becomes of them! ( John 16:11) But the gracious God, Who through Jesus Christ our Lord has again caused the light of His grace to rise upon us, enlighten, admonish and strengthen your hearts with the power of His Holy Spirit, in firm faith and fervent love, that in this and in all things else you may do His fatherly and gracious will, to the honor and praise of His holy Gospel, to the comfort and help of all believers in Christ. To Him be thanks, praise and glory forever. Amen.
The grace of God be with you all. Amen.