Friday, May 25, 2018

Luther: Whoever First Brewed Beer Has Prepared a Pest for Germany

Above: A product from the LutherBiere line. 

Cyberspace is replete with descriptions of Martin Luther as the beer-guzzling antinomian. Here's a rare instance of the opposite description. Luther is reported to have stated,
Whoever first brewed beer has prepared a pest for Germany. I have prayed to God that he would destroy the whole growing industry. I have often pronounced a curse on the brewer. All Germany could live on the barley that is spoiled and turned into a curse by the brewer.
Multiple sources have used this quote, typically undocumented, particularly in support of Prohibition. It appears versions of this Luther quote only gained popularity around the time of Prohibition in the United States For instance:

And also:
We are told that Martin Luther, who lived four hundred years ago, foresaw the great evil of the beer business and prayed to God for deliverance for Germany from its curse. He is quoted as having said: “Whoever first brewed beer has prepared a pest for Germany.”Then he added: “I have prayed to God that He would destroy the whole brewing industry. . . . . . . All Germany could live on the barley that is spoiled and turned into a curse by the brewer.”
Martin Luther saw a long way ahead when he made that prayer, but it is not yet too late for God to answer and destroy the whole brewing business. It is indeed a curse to the human family and needs to be put out of the way. No doubt many a brewer has laughed in his sleeve at Martin Luther's prayer for the destruction of this great evil, fully believing that because it was not answered immediately, it would never be. It is now most likely that the man is now living who will see the day when Martin Luther's prayer will be answered and the brewing business destroyed. It looks that way now—the nations are turning against “the jolly old brewer.”

There is also an alternate version:
The man who first brewed beer was a pest for Germany. Food must be dear in all our land, for the horses eat up all our oats, and the peasants drink up all our barley in the form of beer. I have survived the end of genuine beer, for it has now become small beer in every sense, and I have prayed to God that He might destroy the whole beer-brewing business, and the first beer-brewer I have often cursed. There is enough barley destroyed in the breweries to feed all Germany. 

The quote is typically undocumented. This source claims it is from "Martin Luther in his Table Talks.One of the most popular sources for quoting Luther is the Tischreden, in English known as 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. It is a popular source because the comments are witty, and often stand alone, in fact they most often stand alone because the actual historical context of the purported remarks is unknown. 

A version of this particular beer-bashing comment can be found in the TischredenWATR 1:23 states,

This particular saying was recorded by John Schlaginhaufen (he recorded statements of Luther from 1531-1532). LW explains his collections was not published until 1888 (LW 54:125) by Wilhelm Preger. When WATR refers to "Schlag. 49," they are referring to entry 49 found here. "CLM. 943" refers to the Munich codex that Grisar says was the primary source "used by Preger." It was a copy of  Schlaginhaufen's notes ("made by some unknown person about 1551...").  "233b" and "234" then refer to the entry numbers in that handwritten manuscript.  Notice at the bottom WATR 1 refers to "Nr. 2344 (Cord. 442)." This refers also to one of the compilers of the Table TalkConrad Cordatus was one of the earliest to take notes on Luther's incidental statements. Here is statement 442 from Cordatus:
Notice how sparse the comment recorded by Cordatus actually is, basically repeating the sentiment about the first beer brewer being the pest of Germany.  But like many of the Table Talk statements, multiple versions exist. Note the similarities in this Table Talk statement  and this statement!

The English edition of Luther's Works did include Schlaginhaufen's comment (WATR 1:23;1281). It can be found at LW 54:132. They also included the comment from Cordatus (WATR 3:5; 2810b), found at LW 54:172, which had been attached to another comment about Adam. Cordatus took Luther's comments from other sources. He later revised his Table Talk notes, making stylistic changes. Because of this, Luther's Works (English edition) includes only a small sampling of those statements compiled by Cordatus.


No. 1281: Large Proportion of Grain Used to Make Beer
Between December 28 and 31, 1531
“Whoever it was who invented the brewing of beer has been a curse for Germany. Prices must be high in our lands. Horses devour the greatest part of the grain, for we grow more oats than rye. Then the good peasants and townspeople drink up almost as much of the grain in the form of beer. On this account the farmers in noble Thuringia, where the land is very fertile, have learned the rascality of growing woad where good and noble grain used to be cultivated, and this has so burned and exhausted the soil that it is beyond all reason.” (LW 54:132)

No. 2810b: Adam Must Have Lived a Simple Life
Between November 24 and December 8, 1532
“Adam was a very simple and unassuming man, [said Luther]. I don’t think he lighted candles. He didn’t know that the ox has suet in his body, for he wasn’t as yet slaughtering cattle. I wonder where he got the hides. Beyond this, Adam was undoubtedly a handsome man. He lived so long that he saw the eighth generation of his descendants, up to the time of Noah. No doubt he was a very sensible man and well practiced in a variety of trials. He lived most temperately and drank neither wine nor beer.
“I wish the brewing of beer had never been invented, for a great deal of grain is consumed to make it, and nothing good is brewed.” (LW 54:172)
Because there are so many quotes from Luther that prove he drank and enjoyed beer, one may be tempted to conclude that Luther was being inconsistent. If the statement was really made by Luther, I do not think he was inconsistent, because his general concern throughout his life was in regard to the excess of alcohol. There are a great many legitimate comments from Luther about drunkenness. Consider particularly, Luther's 1539 Sermon on Soberness and Moderation (LW 51:289-299). Consider one excerpt:
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] (LW 51:293).
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 publicly for this vice, and read the elector’s courtiers an astonishingly drastic lecture” [Heinrich Boehmer, Luther and the Reformation in the Light of Modern Research (London: G. Bell and Sons LTD, 1930), 198]. It appears to me that those in support of Prohibition took one Table Talk comment and ran with it, attempting to make Luther into something he was not.

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