Saturday, July 18, 2009

Luther: Noblemen, townsmen, peasants, all classes understand the Evangelium better than I or St. Paul

Over on the Catholic Answers boards, a person asked for information about a few Luther quotes:

Jul 18, '09, 11:22 am
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Does anyone know what the original date and source for these quotes by Martin Luther? I see them quoted often in books and on line, but haven't reference seen the original source materials (i.e., one of his letters, books, speeches or sermons). Thanks in advance!

"This one will not hear of Baptism, and that one denies the sacrament, another puts a world between this and the last day: some teach that Christ is not God, some say this, some say that: there are as many sects and creeds as there are heads. No yokel is so rude but when he has dreams and fancies, he thinks himself inspired by the Holy Ghost and must be a prophet"(citation: De Wette III, 61. quoted in O'Hare, The Facts About Luther, 208.)

"Noblemen, townsmen, peasants, all classes understand the Evangelium better than I or St. Paul; they are now wise and think themselves more learned than all the ministers." (citation: Walch XIV, 1360. quoted in O'Hare, Ibid, 209.)

The Catholic Answers participant is simply asking for original date and source. As to the first quote, The source is To the Christians at Antwerp April, 1525. I took a look at it a while back here: Luther: "There are almost as many sects and beliefs as there are heads..." (see also my follow-up entry here). The second quote is more obscure. It comes from at least two different sources. The remainder of this entry will focus on the later quote. The simple answer is that the quote is an August 1532 Table Talk utterance.

Roman Catholic Polemical Use
The second quote has been very popular with Rome's defenders. Patrick O'Hare cites it here in his The Facts About Luther. O'Hare states,
Seeing his power and authority to control the masses gone, he now in a spirit of disappointment sarcastically remarks: "Noblemen, townsmen, peasants, all classes understand the Evangelium better than I or St. Paul; they are now wise and think themselves more learned than all the ministers." (Walch XIV, 1360.)
There are a number of English translations of this quote. Here are a few examples:
"Peasants and nobles know the Gospel better than St . Paul or D. M. Luther; they are wise and they think themselves better than all their clergy." (Walch XIV, 1360) [link]
He once said, " Nobles, citizens, peasants, I might add almost all men, think they know the Gospel better than Dr. Luther or St. Paul himself; and look down on pastors, rather on the Lord and Master of pastors. . . . The nobles seek to govern, and yet know not how. The pope knows how to govern, and does govern. The least papist is more capable of governing than—I cry them mercy—ten of our court nobles."[link]
On one occasion he said, " Nobles, citizens, peasants, everybody, anybody, knows the gospel better than Dr. Luther, or even St. Paul himself. They all despise the pastors of God, or rather, the God and master of pastors." (Tischreden, 5)[link]
"Our nobles, citizens, peasants, nay, every man, believe That they understand the Scripture much better than Dr. Luther, or than St. Paul himself! They despise their teachers, or, rather, the Lord, who is the teacher of all."[link]
"Now everybody, anybody, knows the Gospel better than Dr. Luther, or even St. Paul himself. Nobles, citizens, peasants, despise the pastors of God, or rather the God and Master of pastors." [link]
"Peasants and noblemen know the Evangelium better than St. Paul and Dr. Martin Luther, they are clever and think themselves better than their pastors"[link]

There are at least two sources for this quote. The quote as cited by Father O'Hare (and others) is "Walch XIV, 1360." This page can be found here (in the upper corner to the left of page 789 it says "Walch XIV, 1360"). The writing is entitled, D. Martin Luthers Prophezeiung nach dem Abscheiden des Churfürsten Johannes, August, 1532 (Martin Luther's Prophecies after the death of Elector John of Saxony). Elector John died in August 1532. To my knowledge, no complete English translation has been done of this writing. A footnote at the bottom of the page explains this writing appears to be a collection of Tischreden statements.   This would make sense since another version can be found in the Table Talk. The source therefore is most likely the Table Talk.  The utterance states,

The text can also be found here from a version of the Table Talk from the early 1700's (right column, first paragraph). A lengthier utterance can also be found in WA TR 2: 259 (1906b). Keep in mind, Luther did not write the Table Talk. The Table Talk is a collection of second hand comments written down by Luther's friends and students, published after his death.

There are a few English translations of this Table talk utterance found in older versions of this source, none quite exact as the German paragraph above or the lengthier WA version.

Kings, princes, lords, any one will needs understand the gospel far better than I, Martin Luther, ay, or even than St Paul; for they deem themselves wise and full of policy. But herein they scorn and condemn, not us, poor preachers and ministers, but the Lord and Governor of all preachers and ministers, who has sent us to preach and teach, and who will scorn and condemn them in such sort, that they shall smart again; even He that says: "Whoso heareth you, heareth me; and whoso toucheth you, toucheth the apple of mine eye." The great ones would govern, but they know not how. (link)
"Noblemen conceive themselves to be wise, from whence they contemn God s ministers. Well, on ! M said Luther; " God will contemn them again. A nobleman thinketh he understandeth the Gospel better than St. Paul." (link)  

If you do an Internet search on the use of this quote, you'll note it's polemically used to describe something like the devastating results of Luther's Reformation. For instance, Father O'Hare uses it to prove, "...Luther himself testifies to the utter failure of the cardinal principle of his so-called Reformation." What O'Hare fails to do though is interpret Luther's understanding of the Gospel in his eschatological framework. Rome's line of argumentation caricatures Luther's theology. Luther often expected the Gospel to have a devastating effect on society. He was not a postmillenialist. One could likewise apply the same argumentation to Rome's preaching of her "gospel," and likewise come up with negative "moral results."

Addendum (2016)
This blog entry is a revision of an entry I posted back in 2009. 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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