Monday, October 08, 2018

Luther: "Pure devilry is urging on the peasants…Therefore let all who are able, mow them down, slaughter and stab them..."

Here's something from the CARM Lutheran discussion forum, submitted by someone against Lutherans and Martin Luther:

If Only The Good Old Days Were Here Today
The founder of your religion would not tolerate people disagreeing with him.........don’t you Lutherans long for the good old days ?
Regarding peasants opposed to him and the leaders that favored him, notice what Martin Luther advised:
Pure devilry is urging on the peasants…Therefore let all who are able, mow them down, slaughter and stab them, openly or in secret, and remember that there is nothing more poisonous, noxious and utterly devilish than a rebel. You must kill him as you would a mad dog… 
The authorities must resolve to chastise and slay as long as they can raise a finger…It may be that those who are killed on the side of the authorities is really a martyr in God’s cause. A happier death no man could die. The present time is so strange that a prince can gain Heaven easier by spilling blood than by praying (Luther M. Against the Murderous and Rapacious Hordes of the Peasants, May 4, 1525-Erl, 24, 287, ff. As cited in O’Hare PF. The Facts About Luther, p. 232).
This concoction of quotes blames Martin Luther for killing the peasants during their revolt. The detractor takes it one step further by sniping, "...don't you Lutherans long for the good old days?" as if, modern-day Lutherans long for the medieval mentality of suppressing civil disobedience and rebellion with severe force. Let's take a look at these quotes and the historical situation that surrounds them. We'll see that these quotes we're culled together from a much larger context, a context that was ignored, as was the historical events that provoked them.

Two quotes are provided, both are said to come from "Erl, 24, 287, ff, As cited in O’Hare PF. The Facts About Luther, p. 232." "O'Hare PF" refers to Father Patrick O'Hare, author of the book, The Facts About Luther. Father O'Hare belongs to the Roman Catholic tradition of destructive criticism of the Protestant Reformation. I doubt the person who posted the quotes actually utilized O'Hare's book. A simple Google search reveals a few web-pages use the same exact quotes and documentation. I suspect the web-page which originally mined these quotes (with this documentation) was either this one or this one.

There's actually a typo in the quote, consistent on all the web-pages I found using it: "devilry" should actually be, "deviltry" (according to O'Hare, that's the word he used, though he himself made a typo here, see below).  The source provided refers to the 1987 reprint of Patrick O'Hare, The Facts About Luther (Illinois: Tan Publishers). There,  Father O'Hare states (cf. earlier edition),
At this juncture he wrote a terrible tract entitled, "Against the Murderous and Rapacious Hordes of the Peasants" (Erl. 24, 287, ff.) to urge the civil authorities to crush the revolution. This tract was issued about May 4, 1525. In a copy preserved at the British Museum, London, we find these heartless words: "Pure deviltry is urging on the peasants; they rob and rage and behave like mad dogs." "Therefore let all who are able, mow them down, slaughter and stab them, openly or in secret, and remember that there is nothing more poisonous, noxious and utterly devilish than a rebel. You must kill him as you would a mad dog; if you do not fall upon him, he will fall upon you and the whole land."
In this tract Luther claims that the peasants are not fighting for his new teaching, nor serving the evangel. "They," he says, "serve the devil under the appearance of the evangel ... I believe that the devil feels the approach of the Last Day and therefore has recourse to such unheard of trickery . . . Behold what a powerful prince the devil is, how he holds the world in his hands, and can knead it as he pleases." "I think there is not a single devil now left in Hell, but they have all gone into the peasants, The raging is exceedingly great and beyond all measure."
He therefore calls upon the princes to exert their authority with all their might. "Whatever peasants," he says, "are killed in the fray, are lost body and soul and are the devil's own for all eternity. The authorities must resolve to chastise and slay so long as they can raise a finger: Thou, O God, must judge and act. It may be that whoever is killed on the side of the authorities is really a martyr in God's cause. A happier death no man could die. The present time is so strange that a prince can gain Heaven by spilling blood easier than another person can by praying."
Father O'Hare cites "Erl. 24, 287, ff." This refers to volume 24 of  Dr. Martin Luther's Sämmtliche werke. Page 287 can be found here.  The "ff" refers to the beginning of the treatise (Against the Murderous and Rapacious Hordes of the Peasants, May 4, 1525), not the exact location of the quotes. The reason why O'Hare used this vague reference is that he may have unintentionally plagiarized a long section from the English translation of Hartmann Grisar's Luther biography, almost word for word, yet leaving out Grisar's extensive documentation. For more on O'Hare's use of Grisar, see Addendum #1 below.

In order to demonstrate the spurious nature of the quotes presented on the CARM boards, we'll work through it line by line, demonstrating the sentences were sifted from seven pages of text, then boiled down into two small paragraphs. The first phrase, "Pure deviltry is urging on the peasants" appears to be from the first paragraph of the treatise on page 288. Luther is actually referring to Thomas Müntzer as the archdevil (Erzteufel) stirring up the peasants. The next two sentences of the quote ("Therefore let all who are able... You must kill him as you would a mad dog") are on page 290:

The next sentence is interesting: "The authorities must resolve to chastise and slay as long as they can raise a finger." O'Hare cites it as a direct statement from Luther. However, he appears to have made an error in using Grisar. Grisar says, "The authorities must resolve to 'chastise and slay' so long as they can raise a finger..." The only actual words Grisar cites from Luther here are "chastise and slay." Grisar appears to have based this on page 291, probably providing a summary statement of his interpretation of Luther's words. In this section Luther is referring to secular rulers who have a duty to maintain civil order and punish rebels. It appears to me Grisar may be citing "Therefore I will punish and smite as long as my heart beats. You will be the judge and make things right” (LW 46:53), because the very next section is in regard to martyrdom.

The sentence, "It may be that those who are killed on the side of the authorities is really a martyr in God’s cause" is found  on page 293:

The sentence, "A happier death no man could die" is found on page 294:

The sentence, "The present time is so strange that a prince can gain Heaven easier by spilling blood than by praying" can be found on page 293 (a page earlier than the previous sentence!):

This German text all of this comes from is entitled, Wider die räuberischen und mörderischen Rotten der Bauern (1525). It can also be found in WA 18:344-361. It has been translated into English, entitled, Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants. It can be found in the Philadelphia Edition Volume 4,  and also in LW 46:43-55. Below is the entire translation from the Philadelphia edition, pp. 245-254.

In the former book I did not venture to judge the peasants, since they had offered to be set right and to be instructed, and Christ’s commands, in Matthew 7:1, says that we are not to judge. But before I look around they go on, and, forgetting their offer, they betake themselves to violence, and rob and rage and act like mad dogs. By this it is easy to see what they had in their false minds, and that the pretenses which they made in their twelve articles, under the name of the Gospel, were nothing but lies. It is the devil’s work that they are at, and in particular it is the work of the archdevil who rules at Muhlhausen, and does nothing else than stir up robbery, murder, and bloodshed; as Christ says of him in John 8:44, “He was a murderer from the beginning.” Since, then, these peasants and wretched folk have let themselves be led astray, and do otherwise than they have promised, I too must write of them otherwise than I have written, and begin by setting their sin before them, as God commands Isaiah and Ezekiel, on the chance that some of them may learn to know themselves. Then I must instruct the rulers how they are to conduct themselves in these circumstances.

The peasants have taken on themselves the burden of three terrible sins against God and man, by which they have abundantly merited death in body and soul. In the first place they have sworn to be true and faithful, submissive and obedient, to their rulers, as Christ commands, when He says, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” and in Romans 13:2, “Let everyone be subject unto the higher powers.” Because they are breaking this obedience, and are setting themselves against the higher powers, willfully and with violence, they have forfeited body and soul, as faithless, perjured, lying, disobedient knaves and scoundrels are wont to do. St. Paul passed this judgment on them in Romans 13, when he said, that they who resist the power will bring a judgment upon themselves. This saying will smite the peasants sooner or later, for it is God’s will that faith be kept and duty done.

In the second place, they are starting a rebellion, and violently robbing and plundering monasteries and castles which are not theirs, by which they have a second time deserved death in body and soul, if only as highwaymen and murderers. Besides, any man against whom it can be proved that he is a maker of sedition is outside the law of God and Empire, so that the first who can slay him is doing right and well. For if a man is an open rebel every man is his judge and executioner, just as when a fire starts, the first to put it out is the best man. For rebellion is not simple murder, but is like a great fire, which attacks and lays waste a whole land. Thus rebellion brings with it a land full of murder and bloodshed, makes widows and orphans, and turns everything upside down, like the greatest disaster. Therefore let everyone who can, smite, slay, and stab, secretly or openly, remembering that nothing can be more poisonous, hurtful, or devilish than a rebel. It is just as when one must kill a mad dog; if you do not strike him, he will strike you, and a whole land with you.

In the third place, they cloak this terrible and horrible sin with the Gospel, call themselves “Christian brethren,” receive oaths and homage, and compel people to hold with them to these abominations. Thus they become the greatest of all blasphemers of God and slanderers of His holy Name, serving the devil, under the outward appearance of the Gospel, thus earning death in body and soul ten times over. I have never heard of more hideous sin. I suspect that the devil feels the Last Day coming and therefore undertakes such an unheard-of act, as though saying to himself, “This is the last, therefore it shall be the worst; I will stir up the dregs and knock out the bottom.” God will guard us against him! See what a mighty prince the devil is, how he has the world in his hands and can throw everything into confusion, when he can so quickly catch so many thousands of peasants, deceive them, blind them, harden them, and throw them into revolt, and do with them whatever his raging fury undertakes.

It does not help the peasants, when they pretend that, according to Genesis 1 and 2, all things were created free and common, and that all of us alike have been baptized. For under the New Testament Moses does not count; for there stands our Master, Christ, and subjects us, with our bodies and our property, to the emperor and the law of this world, when He says, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” Paul, too, says, in Romans 13:1, to all baptized Christians, “Let every man be subject to the power,” and Peter says, “Be subject to every ordinance of man.” By this doctrine of Christ we are bound to live, as the Father commands from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son; hear him.” For baptism does not make men free in body and property, but in soul; and the Gospel does not make goods common, except in the case of those who do of their own free will what the apostles and disciples did in Acts 4:32. They did not demand, as do our insane peasants in their raging, that the goods of others, — of a Pilate and a Herod, — should be common, but only their own goods. Our peasants, however, would have other men’s goods common, and keep their own goods for themselves. Fine Christians these! I think there is not a devil left in hell; they have all gone into the peasants. Their raving has gone beyond all measure.

Since the peasants, then, have brought both God and man down upon them and are already so many times guilty of death in body and soul, since they submit to no court and wait for no verdict, but only rage on, I must instruct the worldly governors how they are to act in the matter with a clear conscience.

First. I will not oppose a ruler who, even though he does not tolerate the Gospel, will smite and punish these peasants without offering to submit the case to judgment. For he is within his rights, since the peasants are not contending any longer for the Gospel, but have become faithless, perjured, disobedient, rebellious murderers, robbers, and blasphemers, whom even heathen rulers have the right and power to punish; nay, it is their duty to punish them, for it is just for this purpose that they bear the sword, and are “the ministers of God upon him that doeth evil.”

But if the ruler is a Christian and tolerates the Gospel, so that the peasants have no appearance of a case against him, he should proceed with fear. First he must take the matter to God, confessing that we have deserved these things, and remembering that God may, perhaps, have thus aroused the devil as a punishment upon all Germany. Then he should humbly pray for help against the devil, for “we are battling not only against flesh and blood, but against spiritual wickedness in the air,” and this must be attacked with prayer. Then, when our hearts are so turned to God that we are ready to let His divine will be done, whether He will or will not have us to be princes and lords, we must go beyond our duty, and offer the mad peasants an opportunity to come to terms, even though they are not worthy of it. Finally, if that does not help, then swiftly grasp the sword.

For a prince and lord must remember in this case that he is God’s minister and the servant of His wrath ( Romans 13:4), to whom the sword is committeed for use upon such fellows, and that he sins as greatly against God, if he does not punish and protect and does not fulfill the duties of his office, as does one to whom the sword has not been committed when he commits a murder. If he can punish and does not — even though the punishment consist in the taking of life and the shedding of blood — then he is guilty of all the murder and all the evil which these fellows commit, because, by willful neglect of the divine command, he permits them to practice their wickedness, though he can prevent it, and is in duty bound to do so. Here, then, there is no time for sleeping; no place for patience or mercy. It is the time of the sword, not the day of grace.

The rulers, then, should go on unconcerned, and with a good conscience lay about them as long as their hearts still beat. It is to their advantage that the peasants have a bad conscience and an unjust cause, and that any peasant who is killed is lost in body and soul and is eternally the devil’s.

But the rulers have a good conscience and a just cause; and can, therefore, say to God with all assurance of heart, “Behold, my God, you have appointed me prince or lord, of this I can have no doubt; and Thou hast committed to me the sword over the evildoers ( Romans 13:4). It is Thy Word, and cannot lie. I must fulfill my office, or forfeit Thy grace. It is also plain that these peasants have deserved death many times over, in Thine eyes and the eyes of the world, and have been committed to me for punishment. If it be Thy will that I be slain by them, and that my rulership be taken from me and destroyed, so be it: Thy will be done. So shall I die and be destroyed fulfilling Thy commandment and Thy Word, and shall be found obedient to Thy commandment and my office. Therefore will I punish and smite as long as my heart beats. Thou wilt judge and make things right.”

Thus it may be that one who is killed fighting on the ruler’s side may be a true martyr in the eyes of God, if he fights with such a conscience as I have just described, for he is in God’s Word and is obedient to Him. On the other hand, one who perishes on the peasants’ side is an eternal brand of hell, for he bears the sword against God’s Word and is disobedient to Him, and is a member of the devil. And even though it happen that the peasants gain the upper hand (which God forbid!) — for to God all things are possible, and we do not know whether it may be His will, through the devil, to destroy all order and rule and cast the world upon a desolate heap, as a prelude to the Last Day, which cannot be far off — nevertheless, they may die without worry and go to the scaffold with a good conscience, who are found exercising their office of the sword. They may leave to the devil the kingdom of the world, and take in exchange the everlasting kingdom. Strange times, these, when a prince can win heaven with bloodshed, better than other men with prayer!
Finally, there is another thing that ought to move the rulers. The peasants are not content to be themselves the devil’s own, but they force and compel many good people against their wills to join their devilish league, and so make them partakers of all of their own wickedness and damnation.
For anyone who consents to what they do, goes to the devil with them, and is guilty of all the evil deeds that they commit; though he has to do this because he is so weak in faith that he does not resist them. A pious Christian ought to suffer a hundred deaths, rather than give a hair’s breadth of consent to the peasants’ cause. O how many martyrs could now be made by the bloodthirsty peasants and the murdering prophets! Now the rulers ought to have mercy on these prisoners of the peasants, and if they had no other reason to use the sword, with a good conscience, against the peasants, and to risk their own lives and property in fighting them, there would be reason enough, and more than enough, in this — that thus they would be rescuing and helping these souls, whom the peasants have forced into their devilish league and who, without willing it, are sinning so horribly, and who must be damned. For truly these souls are in purgatory; nay, in the bonds of hell and the devil.
Therefore, dear lords, here is a place where you can release, rescue, help. Have mercy on these poor people! Stab, smite, slay, whoever can. If you die in doing it, well for you! A more blessed death can never be yours, for you die in obeying the divine Word and commandment in Romans 13, and in loving service of your neighbor, whom you are rescuing from the bonds of hell and of the devil. And so I beg everyone who can to flee from the peasants as from the devil himself; those who do not flee, I pray that God will enlighten and convert. As for those who are not to be converted, God grant that they may have neither fortune nor success. To this let every pious Christian say Amen! For this prayer is right and good, and pleases God; this I know. If anyone think this too hard, let him remember that rebellion is intolerable and that the destruction of the world is to be expected every hour.
The above analysis reveals the two quotes were culled from the entire treatise, spanning all seven pages of Erl. 24. Some of the words quoted by O'Hare were not even Luther's, but rather those of Hartmann Grisar ("The authorities must resolve to...  so long as they can raise a finger...").  The last sentence cited by O'Hare ("The present time is so strange that a prince can gain Heaven easier by spilling blood than by praying") actually occurs in the text previous to the one cited before it ( "A happier death no man could die").

This charge of plagiarism is not tangential. O'Hare's book is pure propaganda. I could provide a number of instances in which this source mis-cites and misquotes Luther. O'Hare bludgeons history, presenting a ridiculous caricature of Luther and the Reformation. Along then comes someone using this tainted source, sifting out a few sentences, then placarding them as direct quotes on a web-page. completely unaware of the nefarious construction of the material, and further perpetuating poor history.

In regard to the historical events surrounding this quote: Luther's harsh advise in this treatise came out after the rebellion had begun. "Against The Robbing And Murdering Mobs of Peasants" was delayed in printing. The princes were already in progress of using their force to kill the peasants to suppress their revolt. Luther's intent was to have this book published in one volume along with the earlier treatise, the Admonition To Peace. This earlier treatise considered the plight of the peasants, and exhorted the princes to consider the unstable state of affairs their rule helped create. The Admonition was directed towards good peasants, while the newer treatise was directed toward the bad peasants. In Against the Robbing and Murdering Mobs of Peasants, Luther states: "...any man against whom it can be proved that he is a maker of sedition is outside the law of God and Empire, so that the first who can slay him is doing right and well" or as LW 46:50 states similarly, "...anyone who can be proved to be a seditious person is an outlaw before God and the emperor..." Luther's intent therefore, was not simply to have the authorities suppress all the peasants, but rather, those that were breaking the law.  

Richard Marius stated in his book Martin Luther: The Christian Between God and Death, "The nobles did not require Luther to urge them to massacre; they were entirely capable of inspiring themselves to the bloody business that they pursued for several months" (p.432). Marius goes on to state, "Luther was not responsible for these atrocities. Yet to many people, the timing of his diatribe against the peasants made him seem a cause of the slaughter that followed." (p.432). Marius also points out that in Luther's follow-up defense of his harsh book, he condemned the killing of both the guilty and innocent together after the princes were already victorious. "Luther raged against the tyranny of the nobles in books and pamphlets over the next year or so and blamed their merciless conduct for continued peasant unrest" (p.433).

That Luther's Admonition To Peace is rarely brought up by cyber-criticizers of Luther is a good indication of bias. That is, why don't rulers get blamed for not following Luther's points in this earlier treatise? If Luther's words had the power of life and death over the peasants, why was the Admonition To Peace so ineffective in controlling those rulers who are said to be so motivated by Luther words? Obviously, Luther's words were not as crucial and important to the rulers as some make them out to be.

If one wants to chastise Luther, it would be for the harshness of his words against the peasants. Yes, I'm sure certain rulers found it comforting that Luther agreed with their cause to suppress the peasants (like Philip of Hesse). On the other hand, one must seriously ask what would've happened to the peasants had not Luther wrote against them? My gut feeling is they would've been slaughtered all the same. So, if they were to be killed anyway, what then was the actual force of Luther's harsh book?

Some argue, guilt by association. Luther agreed the peasants should be suppressed, and they were, so Luther was part of the problem, rather than the solution. It's a bit naive though to think somehow a person living in a peaceful country, hundreds of years later, can actually determine the guilt of Luther's writings in the entire peasants revolt. I would love to have the ability to stick these people back in 1524-1525, to see what they would think of the peasants 
while the peasants ransacked their house, or killed their family members, and threatened the stability of the land. I would posit the same people criticizing Luther now, would be the first to buy his book Against the Robbing and Murdering Mobs of Peasants, and ask Luther to autograph it. It is indeed ironic that we can be extremely critical of a situation we have never faced, but then, thrust into such a situation, we learn what it is to actually be in that situation.

Addendum #1 O"Hare's Use of Hartmann Grisar
While checking O'Hare's book it was blatantly obvious he heavily utilized a large section of text from volume 2 of the English edition of Hartmann Grisar's massive biography of Luther. O'Hare mentions and directly cites Grisar on the top of page 236 and  also mentions his use of Grisar on page 238. He begins his extensive use of Grisar at the bottom of the page beginning with the words, "Pure deviltry..." (Grisar though, used the word, "devilry"). Simply compare O'Hare page 236 and following with Grisar, the bottom of page 201 and following. At one point, O'Hare attempted to change a few words of Grisar's. For instance, Grisar says on page 202, "He therefore invites the authorities to intervene with all their strength." O'Hare changes this to, "He therefore calls upon the princes to exert their authority with all their might" (p.237).

Addendum #2
The discussion on CARM that provoked this entry was deleted by the moderators. The person who began the discussion was suspended and banned for bad behavior. 

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