“[T]he day has come not only to abolish forever those unnatural laws, but to punish, with all rigor of the law, such as make them; to destroy convents, abbey, priories and monasteries and in this way prevent their ever being uttered.” - Martin Luther (Wittenb. 2, 204 B)This quote appeared in the discussion, Did Martin Luther allow divorce? The person who posted it didn't explain how exactly it was relevant to the topic of discussion, divorce. It was posted along with a number of other shock quotes, all I suspect have the goal of preaching the evils of Martin Luther to the choir. It appears the point here is that Luther's evil was his desire to "destroy convents, abbey, priories and monasteries." This same person who posted this quote commented elsewhere, "How is quoting Luther’s filthy works verbatim, ‘bashing him’?! Can we not expose his works to stir the hearts of those who ignorantly follow his theology, to reconcile them back to the Church Christ founded?" And also, "We aren’t attacking the person of Martin Luther. We are merely exposing his works for what they are. Wouldn’t you want to know if your denominational founder’s works were vile and lewd? Or, would you want to remain in the naive comfort of not knowing?" This is the mindset of this particular defender of Rome: it's not an attack to present out-of-context quotes devoid of either a historical or actual context!
We'll see with this quote, tracking down it's source and context is an exercise in tedious difficulty. We'll see also that in those alleged sources, as the quote stands, it's probably not exactly what Luther said. It appears to be an embellishment concocted by one of Rome's defenders, many, many, years ago.
While a reference is provided (which will be discussed below), it's far more likely the Catholic Answers participant lifted this quote from Father Patrick O'Hare, The Facts About Luther. Father O'Hare states,
Christ, speaking of virginity, not by way of command, but by way of counsel, said, "he that can take it let him take it" and that His grace will be all-sufficient to overcome the infirmity of nature. Luther in unbounded blasphemy contradicts this Divine utterance. He will no longer acknowledge such preaching. He, the doctor of doctors, considers it all folly and declares most emphatically that "it is impossible for any one to live single and be continent." (To his distorted mind/the vow of chastity was an "impossible vow," "an abomination" and "worse than adultery." In his desire to abolish and get rid of it, he is not ashamed to appeal "to priests, monks and nuns, who find themselves capable of generation," to violate their sworn promises and abandon their freely chosen state of celibacy. Unless they follow his advice, he considers nothing remains for them but "to pass their days in inevitable self-gratification." "Parents," he said, "should be dissuaded from counselling their children to adopt the religious state as they were surely making an offering of them to the devil." (Wittenb. V, 124.) Thus with shameless effrontery, he declaimed like a maniac against religious vows and, so bitterly antagonistic was he, that he went so far as to declare "that the day has come not only to abolish forever those unnatural vows, but to punish, with all the rigor of the law, such as make them; to destroy convents, abbeys, priories and monasteries and in this way prevent their ever being uttered." (See Wittenb. 2, 204 B.) To all this, every libertine from Luther's day down to the present, would respond with a hearty "Amen." Not so, however, the clean of heart, who appreciate the invaluable services that the Religious, male and female, have rendered the world in all ages and climes in every department of life, The great exemplar of virginity was the Lord Jesus Christ. The dissolute nailed Him to the cross. Ever since persecution has been the lot of the clean of heart. Luther and his followers had not the courage to continue to make sacrifices, conquer their passions and bring their unruly bodies into subjection to Divine law and heavenly grace and, imagining others to be as weak, depraved and cowardly as themselves—no longer men enough to bear their self-imposed yoke of chastity — they even charged with a horrible hypocrisy the imitators of the virginity of Christ, whose glorious history is in veneration among the pure of heart the world over. In refusing to believe in the possibility of virtue and self-control and in persecuting the aspirants after perfection, they only prove to the disgust of the decent of all times that they have reached the lowest limits of brutality.The documentation O'Hare provided was, "See Wittenb. 2, 204 B." Father O'Hare doesn't explain his reference, but I assume he's referring to the Wittenberg edition of Luther's Works. This edition was the first attempt at collecting Luther's writings into a multi-volume set. When O'Hare refers to "Wittenb." he appears to be referring to the Latin volumes, not the German volumes. I base this on his previous reference to "Wittenb. V, 124 (which is a reference to the Latin volumes of the set). I did not find anything in the extant Latin volume 2's I have compiled on page 204 B. Here also is Page 204 B from the 1557 German volume two. There is nothing similar to the quote on that page either. I've gone through O'Hare's book for a number of years now. I've grown convinced he did very little of his own research into Luther's writings. He appears to have simply done a cut-and-paste with his favorite hostile Roman Catholic secondary sources.
There are a number of sources previous to his that use a similar English rendering of this quote, but I suspect this rendering originally came from Roman Catholic historian John Alzog's Manual of Universal Church History (Handbuch der Universal-Kirchengeschichte, 1841). Alzog predates O'Hare, and he is referred to a few times in The Facts About Luther. Alzog's use of the quote can be found here. O'Hare's English rendering (provided by the person who translated Alzog's book) is so similar to Alzog's, it's more likely Father O'Hare was not utilizing a primary German source, but lifted the quote from the translation of Alzog (or someone who utilized Alzog). Here's Alzog's rendering:
Luther was now in a position to see the practical workings of his own teaching and the faithful reproduction of his own conduct, and for the moment he seemed startled by the vision. But rapidly recovering himself, he again dashed headlong into just such violent and revolutionary conduct as he had attempted to suppress, again declaiming like a maniac against religious vows. "It is all one," said he, with shameless effrontery, "whether one says to God: I promise never to leave off offending Thee; or whether one says: I promise to live always chaste and poor that I may lead a just and holy life. The day has come,' he continued, " not only to abolish forever those unnatural vows, but to punish, with all the rigor of the law, such as make them; to destroy convents, abbeys, priories, and monasteries, and in this way prevent them ever again being uttered." (Short Epilogue against Vows and Religious Life in Monasteries, in Walch, Vol. XlX., p. 797)Notice Alzog provides a completely different reference. Here is Walch XIX, 797. There is nothing similar on this page to what's being cited by Alzog (his German edition has the same reference). Alzog says these words are from Luther's "Short Epilogue against Vows and Religious Life in Monasteries" (Kurze Schlußrede von den Gelübden und dem geistlichen Leben der Klöster). This treatise actually begins on page 1797 in Walch XIX, so it strongly appears Alzog made a one digit error with his reference. This treatise is also known as Luther's Theses on Vows (Themata de votis), or Themes Concerning Vows September 1521 (WA 8:323-329). This text is scheduled to be translated into English in a forthcoming volume of Luther's Works. This writing is a series of points outlining Luther's views on monastic vows (not long after, he solidified these points into The Judgment of Martin Luther On Monastic Vows, LW 44:243). Unfortunately, there is no such quote as that purported by Alzog on page 1797.
What this bibliographic tedium proves is that there is no such quote as that purported on pages 797 or 1797 of Walch XIX, nor is O'Hare's "See Wittenb. 2, 204 B" of any use. It's obvious that Father O'Hare lifted this quote from a secondary source, either Alzog, or someone utilizing Alzog. Citing "Wittenb. 2, 204 B," doesn't make any sense. Why did O'Hare lift the Alzog English version, but left off Alzog's reference?
Even though the references above didn't lead to an exact context, I do have some speculations as to where this quote may have been taken from. First, there is something in the treatise Alzog refers to, Luther's Theses on Vows. In Walch XIX 1800, two of the theses points state:
And also in Walch XIX 1806, a later theses point states:
In these theses points, Luther speaks of getting rid of monasteries. He does not though mention "convents, abbeys, priories." Theses 128 states that the monasteries should be given "teachers of faith" or destroyed. The Latin text reads, "Aut ergo da monasteriis doctores fidei, aut dele ea funditus." One other context deserves mention, and it come courtesy of Roman Catholic historian, Heinrich Denifle:
Such was Luther's fundamental view from the time of his apostasy until his death. “All monasteries,” he says in 1523, “and all cathedrals and similar abominations in the holy place are to be wholly annihilated or abandoned, since they persuade men into open dishonor of the blood of Christ and of the faith, into putting trust in their own works in seeking their salvation, which is nothing else but denying the Lord, Who purchased us, as Peter says.[Enders, IV, 224: "** * * penitus abolendas aut deserendas esse.” Luther appeals to 2 Peter, 2, 1. But of course there is mo mention there of good works, but only of those sects which deny Christ].
What Denifle is referencing in Luther's letter to the Duke of Savoy, September 7, 1523. It can be found here, and it has been in publication since the sixteenth century. The text reads,
Denifle provides a number of statements from Luther calling for the downfall of the papacy and the destruction of monasticism. Denifle provided an accurate quote from Luther as to his motivations: "...they persuade men into open dishonor of the blood of Christ and of the faith, into putting trust in their own works in seeking their salvation, which is nothing else but denying the Lord."
In the quote under scrutiny, I do not doubt Luther at times called for the destruction of papal institutions. Rather the problem is that the quote itself is not found in the specific references provided. O'Hare's reference appears to be entirely inaccurate and a blatant plagiarizing of the English rendering of Alzog. Alzog's reference, "797" is inaccurate as well, and even when corrected to page 1797, there is no such quote on that page. Perhaps Alzog meant to only document where the treatise begins? If that's the case, Alzog embellished the context. There is nothing in the treatise that specifically says what Alzog is purporting in the phrasing and order Alzog used.