This quote comes from Luther's Lectures on the Epistle to the Romans. These lectures began on November 3, 1515, and ended on September 7, 1516. Notice his work on Romans precedes the 95 Theses, and I would argue this writing contains certain thoughts from Luther that he later revised, abandoned or simply delineated to speculation about the hidden god. Roman Catholic writers coming across this material view these early writings as an all out assault on Roman doctrine. Luther speaks about the bondage of the will and God's sovereign election and predestination- doctrines that typically are abhorrent to those championing free will like Rome's defenders. Here's what's been published on the Internet:
Luther thought that men should have an "ineffable joy" if they discovered that they were damned, because they were resigned to God's will. [source]
He even dares to say to those who are affrighted by predestination to hell, that resignation to eternal punishment is, for the truly wise, a source of "ineffable joy." [source]
His assurance to souls, affrighted by their inevitable predestination to Hell, that for the truly wise acceptance of eternal punishment is a source of "ineffable joy", seems more a mockery than anything else. [source]
Martin Luther had started to dissent from received Catholic doctrine as early as 1516, in his Commentary on Romans. In this work, he denied both venial sin and merit. He also taught more bizarre doctrines, such as that men should have an "ineffable joy" to discover that they were damned, because they were in accord with God's will. [source]One can venture into these web pages for further clarification to see how this concept is used. However, on a bald reading these Roman Catholic writers appear to be stating that Luther held those who somehow know they are damned should be very happy about it. One writer calls it one of Luther's "bizarre doctrines." It certainly smells a lot like fatalism, and indeed, if Luther was stating that a revelation of being damned to hell by one on the way to hell should have an "ineffable joy," I heartily agree it is quite bizarre, if not flippant and cold-hearted, but that's not what the context says.
These conclusions from Rome's modern defenders may be based on an older Roman Catholic polemical work: Hartmann Grisar, Luther Vol. 1 (St. Louis: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co., LTD, 1913). At least Grisar hints at an explanation of why the young Luther used the phrase "ineffable joy," whereas, those quoted above leave the phrase hanging in ambiguity. Grisar states:
[Luther] even dares to say to those who are affrighted by predestination to hell, that resignation to eternal punishment is, for the truly wise, a source of "ineffable joy" ("ineffdbili iucunditate in ista materia delectantur"); for the perfect this is "the best purgation from their own will," i.e. the way of the greatest bitterness," because under charity the cross and suffering is always understood" [p.238].Grisar cites "'Schol. Rom.,' pp. 213, 223" as the source for this quote. This appears to be
Luthers Vorlesung über den Römerbrief, 1515/1516. The quote appears to be on page 213:
This text can also be found in WA 56:386, lines 24-30. Luther's Lectures on Romans were never intended for publication (LW 25:xii).By the late sixteenth century, the manuscript was thought to be lost. A copy of it was eventually found, in of all places, the Vatican Library. Johannes Ficker eventually found the original. Grisar therefore, was citing Ficker's publication.
This has been translated into English LW 25.377. An edited version also exists: Luther's Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans [Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1976, p.131] LW 25 is a more complete word for word translation (see addendum #2 below). For clarity, I prefer Kregel's simpler reading much more than that presented in LW 25, but both say the same thing. Below is the Kregel context for Luther's "ineffable joy" of those learning they are damned to hell.
The comment is from Luther's lengthy treatment of Romans 8:28, and falls within a specific treatment on the subjects of predestination and election. Luther has argued first, in connection with studying divine predestination, God has an unchangeable election of individuals. Second, All objections to to this type of individual predestination proceed from fallen human reason. Luther's third point provides the pertinent context:
The third thought (that we could consider in connection with God's eternal election) is that this doctrine is indeed most bitter to the wisdom of the flesh, which revolts against it and even becomes guilty of blasphemy on this point. But it is fully defeated when we learn to know that our salvation rests in no wise upon ourselves and our conduct, but is founded solely upon what is outside us, namely, on God's election. Those who have the wisdom of the Spirit become ineffably happy through the doctrine, as the Apostle himself illustrates this. To them, (His elect), Christ says: "Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32). So also God says in Isaiah 35:4: "Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not:behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompence; he will come and save you." Everywhere in Scripture those are praised and encouraged who listen to God's Word with trembling. As they despair of themselves, the Word of God performs its work in them. If we anxiously tremble at God's Word and are terrified by it, this is indeed a good sign.
If one fears that he is not elected or is otherwise troubled about his election, he should be thankful that he has such fear; for then he should surely know that God cannot lie when in Psalm 51:17 He says: "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, 0 God, thou wilt not despise." Thus he should cheerfully cast himself on the faithfulness of God who gives this promise, and turn away from the foreknowledge of the threatening God. Then he will be saved as one that is elected. It is not the characteristic of reprobates to tremble at the secret counsel of God; but that is the characteristic of the elect. The reprobates despise it, or at least pay no attention to it, or else they declare in the arrogance of their despair: "Well, if I am damned, all right, then I am damned."
With reference to the elect we might distinguish between three classes. First, there are those who are satisfied with God's will, as it is, and do not murmur against God, but rather believe that they are elected. They do not want to be damned. Secondly, there are those who submit to God's will and are satisfied with it in their hearts. At least they desire to be satisfied, if God does not wish to save, but reject them. Thirdly, there are those who really are ready to be condemned if God should will this. These are cleansed most of all of their own will and carnal wisdom. And these experience the truth of Canticles 8:6: "Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death." Such love is always joined with cross and tribulation, for without it the soul becomes lax, and does not seek after God, nor thirst after God, who is the Fountain of Life. [pp. 131-132].
So rather than Luther teaching the damned should have "ineffable joy" about going to Hell, Luther here states that God's eternal election serves as a comfort to his chosen people. Luther, heavily influenced at this time by German mysticism, lastly speaks of those of the elect that so trust in God's eternal decrees that even if they were to learn God had decreed to damn them, their love for God's eternal divine sovereignty would keep them at peace with such a decree. Of course, the argument is more about one "being cleansed of their own will and carnal wisdom" rather than God actually sending one of his elect into eternal damnation. In other words, Luther is making the point that those really seeking to live a life of holiness could arrive at say, something similar to what Abraham experienced when God asked him to offer his son Issac as a sacrifice, or Job's famous words, "Though He slay me, I will hope in Him." One could arrive at being cleansed of our own will and carnal wisdom and trust in God's sovereign plan, despite what we see through our sinful eyes.
Grisar though sees differently:
Several times in his Commentary on Romans he represents resignation to, indeed even an actual desire for, damnation- should that be the will of God- as something grand and sublime. Thereby he thinks he is teaching the highest degree of resignation to God s inscrutable will; thereby the highest step on the ladder of self-abnegation has been attained. In reality it is an ideal of a frightful character, far worse even than a return to nothingness. He lets us see here, as he does so often in other matters, how greatly his turbulent spirit inclined to extremes [p.238].
Luther s mysticism is veritably a mysticism of despair and the "humilitas" with its love ready even for hell, which he belauds as the anchor of safety, is a forced expedient really excluded by his system, and which he himself discarded as soon as he was able to replace it by the (God- given) fides, in the shape of faith in personal justification and salvation. [p.240].
This blog entry is a revision of an entry I posted back in 2008. 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. Part two of this series will be revised in a future blog post.
Here is the translation of the quote in question from LW 25:376-377. You'll notice that the text is more complete than the Kregel edition, but a bit more of a cumbersome read:
Although this matter is very hard for the “prudence of the flesh,” which is made even more indignant by it and brought even to the point of blasphemy, because here it is strangled to death and reduced to absolutely nothing, it understands that salvation comes in no way from something working in itself but only from outside itself, namely, from God, who elects. But those who have the “prudence of the spirit” delight in this subject with an ineffable pleasure, as the apostle makes clear here and as is seen in the case of Hannah, the mother of Samuel in 1 Sam. 2. Among these are those people in the middle who have begun to turn away from the “prudence of the flesh” or are coming close to the “prudence of the spirit,” people who gladly want to do the will of God, but they are pusillanimous and tremble when they hear these teachings. Thus even though these words of the most perfect and nourishing food are still not entirely pleasant to them, yet by the process of antiperistasis, that is, through the fact that opposites attract, they find these words soothing and consoling. Thus, for example, no words are more effective than these for terrifying, humbling, and destroying our arrogant presumptuousness regarding merits. But those who are fearful and become pale before them have here the best and happiest sign, for the Scripture says: “Upon whom does My Spirit rest except on him who is humble and trembles at My Word?” (Is. 11:2; 66:2). To these people Christ also says: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s pleasure to give you the Kingdom” (Luke 12:32). And Is. 35:4: “Say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, fear not! Behold, your God will come.’ ” For if He had not seen that they were thinking the opposite, namely, fear and despair of the Kingdom, He would not have said, “You who are of fearful heart, ‘Be strong! Behold, your God will come.’ ” And again: “Blessed is the man who fears the Lord” (Ps. 112:1). And everywhere in the Scriptures, people of this kind who fear the Word of God are commended and comforted. For they despair of themselves, and the Word of God accomplishes its work in them, that is, creating the fear of God in them. For just as those who are hardened toward the Word of God and trust in themselves have a very bad sign so they who tremble before it and are frightened have the very best sign; as it is written in Ps. 144:6: “Send out Thy arrows and rout them.”
Therefore he who is overly fearful that he is not elect or is tested concerning his election, let him give thanks for this kind of fear and rejoice that he is afraid, for he knows with confidence that God, who cannot lie, has said: “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken,” that is, a despairing “spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise” (Ps. 51:17). Moreover, he himself knows what “broken” means. Therefore he should boldly lay hold on the truthfulness of the God who promises and thus free himself from his former idea of a terrifying God and be saved and elect.
It is surely not a characteristic of reprobate men, at least in this life, that they fear the hidden judgment of God, but rather it is a quality of the elect. For the reprobate despise it and pay it no attention, or in desperation they become presumptuous, saying: “If I am damned, I will be damned.”
And there are three degrees of the company of the elect.
The first belongs to those who are content regarding this will of God and do not murmur against God but rely on the fact that they are elect and do not wish to be damned.
The second degree is better than the first. They are resigned and content in this feeling or at least in the desire for it, should God not want to save them but consider them among the reprobate.
The third degree is the best and highest of them, who in effect resign themselves to hell if God so wills, as is probably the case with many at the hour of death. These people are perfectly cleansed of their own will and the “prudence of the flesh.” They know the meaning of the passage: “Love is strong as death, jealousy is cruel as the grave” (Song of Sol. 8:6). A marvelous comparison, because love is compared with harsh things, although it seemingly is a soft and sweet thing. But it is true that love is the pleasure in someone else, for it enjoys the beloved. But in this world God gives this love to His elect fleetingly and sparingly, for it is a most dangerous thing to have it frequently and for a long time; “for they have their reward” (Matt. 6:2). But this love for something we long for, I say, is like hell, hard and strong, and in this God trains His elect in this life in wonderful ways. Thus the bride says in the Song of Solomon: “I am sick with love” (Song of Sol. 2:5). Therefore under the term “love” or “charity” we must always understand the cross and sufferings, as is clear in this passage. For without these the soul becomes lazy and tepid, neglects the love of God and no longer thirsts for Him, the living Fountain. This love is sweet indeed, but not in passively receiving but in actively demonstrating itself, that is, to speak in common language, it is sweet toward its object but bitter to its subject. For it wishes all good things for others and demonstrates them, but it receives all evils upon itself and takes them as its own. For “it does not seek its own, but bears all things and endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:5, 7).
Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 25: Lectures on Romans. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 25, pp. 376–378). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.