Monday, December 24, 2012

Luther: God must count drunkenness as a minor sin, a small daily sin. We can really not stop it

I was sent a link to a website "exposing" Calvinism because it contained a bunch of Luther quotes. Many of the quotes I've gone over already, but there were a few that I've never examined. Here's one in particular found in a pdf e-book (pictured left) from this site:
“God must count drunkenness as a minor sin, a small daily sin. We can really not stop it.”[16]
The reference link is to Peter Wiener's, Martin Luther, Hitler's Spiritual Ancestor. I've gone through a number of Wiener's quotes over the years. Most of what Wiener presents is poorly documented, and this quote is no exception:
More than once Luther says that he drinks in excess. “I am here,” he writes from the Warburg, “idle and drunk” (Enders III, 154). At other times he states, “I am not drunk” (Enders III, 317; E30, 363). In 1532 he writes: “We eat and drink to kill ourselves, we eat and drink up to our last farthing.” In 1540 he states: “God must count drunkenness as a minor sin, a small daily sin. We can really not stop it.”
Without any documentation, the primary source can only be guessed. Wiener's quote appears to be the same statement used by Roman Catholic historian Hartmann Grisar:
"In the morning you really look as though your heads had been pickled in brine." Yet, from the very passage in the Table-Talk where this is recounted, we learn that he said to the guests, again in a far too indulgent strain: "The Lord God must account the drunkenness of us Germans a mere daily [i.e. venial] sin, for we are unable to give it up; nevertheless, it is a shameful curse, harmful alike to body, soul and property."
Grisar identifies this passage as a Table Talk statement: Mathesius, "Tischreden," p. 95. John Mathesius complied comments Luther made in 1540 (Table Talk statements numbered 4858 to 5341 found in WA, TR 4 and 5). The particular comment referred to by Wiener and Grisar is probably #4917. This is found translated into in English, LW 54:371-372. Keep in mind, anything identified as "Table Talk" are not statements written by Luther, but are rather purported to have been said by Luther.

No. 4917: Drunkenness a Common Vice of Germans May 16, 1540
The doctor [Martin Luther] said, “Our Lord God must count the drunkenness of us Germans as an everyday sin, for we probably can’t stop it, and yet it’s such a disgraceful nuisance that it injures body, soul, and goods.” 
Then Severus said, “Doctor, they said at court that you never inveighed against this vice.”
The doctor replied, “I often bore down hard on this subject in the presence of the court. As a matter of fact, I made it rough and tough on the nobles for leading astray and ruining the princes. This pleased the old man very much, for he lived soberly and often kept John Frederick at table until seven o’clock. But it didn’t help after that hour. I used to say to the nobles, ‘After dinner you ought to practice on the wrestling ground or engage in some other knightly exercise. After that I’d allow you to have a good drinking bout because some tippling’s bearable but intoxication’s not.’ ” 
Luther, M. (1999, c1967). Vol. 54: Luther's works, vol. 54 : Table Talk (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald and H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (54:371). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Once again, the quote in context says something far different than the sentence presented by Peter Wiener.

Luther preached and wrote against drunkenness throughout his entire life with vigor and force. As biographer Heinrich Boehmer notes, “Luther attacked the craving for drink with word and pen more vigorously than any German of his time. He told even princes his opinion of it, in private and public, blamed the elector himself publically for this vice, and read the elector’s courtiers an astonishingly drastic lecture” [Source, Heinrich Boehmer, Luther and the Reformation in the Light of Modern Research (London: G. Bell and Sons LTD, 1930), 198]. One example among many is Luther’s Sermon on Soberness and Moderation against Gluttony and Drunkenness (1539). Luther complaining about excessive drinking states:
“What, therefore, shall we do? The secular government does not forbid it, the princes do nothing about it, and the rulers in the cities do nothing at all but wink at it and do the same themselves. We preach and the Holy Scriptures teach us otherwise; but you want to evade what is taught. Eating and drinking are not forbidden, but rather all food is a matter of freedom, even a modest drink for one’s pleasure. If you do not wish to conduct yourself this way, if you are going to go beyond this and be a born pig and guzzle beer and wine, then, if this cannot be stopped by the rulers, you must know that you cannot be saved. For God will not admit such piggish drinkers into the kingdom of heaven [cf. Gal. 5:19–21]. It is no wonder that all of you are beggars. How much money might not be saved [if excessive drinking were stopped].” [LW 51:293].
And also:
“Listen to the Word of God, which says, “Keep sane and sober,” that it may not be said to you in vain. You must not be pigs; neither do such belong among Christians. So also in I Cor. 6 [:9–10]: No drunkard, whoremonger, or adulterer can be saved. Do not think that you are saved if you are a drunken pig day and night. This is a great sin, and everybody should know that this is such a great iniquity, that it makes you guilty and excludes you from eternal life. Everybody should know that such a sin is contrary to his baptism and hinders his faith and his salvation. Therefore, if you wish to be a Christian, take care that you control yourself. If you do not wish to be saved, go ahead and steal, rob, profiteer as long as you can…. But if you do want to be saved, then listen to this: just as adultery and idolatry close up heaven, so does gluttony; for Christ says very clearly: Take heed “lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly” [Luke 21:34], “as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west” [Matt. 24:27]. Therefore be watchful and sober. That is what is preached to us, who want to be Christians.” [LW 51:293-294]


Martin Yee said...


Thanks again for correcting this crazy distorted myth about Luther. Wishing you and your family a Blessed Christmas and New Year.

Peace and Joy in Emmanuel,
Martin Yee

Brigitte said...

I feel like going back to school and getting another degree and writing a book on who the spiritual ancestors of Hitler were. We really need to look at what happened in the 19th century in regards to philosopy, art, writing, rejection of orthodox Christianity, eugenic and darwinist thinking... All of this has been handled in a shallow Hollywood-style fashion, or not at all. Recently, I watched a good movie on Tolsty "The Last Station" with Helen Miren and Christopher Plummer, in English but somehow sponsored by German company. This is a beginning. Also there was a show on Freud and Jung, recently. We need to know this sort of thing a little better, instead of blaming someone who lived 500 years previous.

Supposedly we are beyond reading books, and it is better movies we need and might get. In effect, however, the ancestor's of Hitlers thinking have been going blame-free. The whole idea of "genius" and superman, and vague spirituality based on thinking about sex and the unconscious, etc. thrown around and mixed together led to the cult of breeding and Fuehrer-material. Christianity and the church were maligned and oppressed and with it the Jew and all "inferior" and weak life (such as the church coddled). (Sorry, I'm on a roll.)

Brigitte said...

I don't mean to say that Freud or Tostoy, etc. are to blame but that their stories help us see the intellectual milieu of the 19th century.