Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Luther: We must remove the Decalogue [Ten Commandments] out of sight and heart

A few years ago, I went looking for this Luther quote: "We must remove the Decalogue [Ten Commandments] out of sight and heart." I wrote about it here. I found something very similar to this quote in Luther’s Commentary on John, but this quote actually comes from a letter.

This one made it's way to cyberspace via Patrick O’Hare's The Facts About Luther (Illinois: Tan Books, 1987), 311. If you do a simple Google search, you can see how far this quote has travelled.

O'Hare documents it as De Wette 4, 188. "De Wette" refers to a collection of Luther's letters. The source is actually Luther's letter to Jerome Weller from 1530. I have that letter posted here, and I also have a follow up post planned on the entirety of the letter. The relevant section is:

When I drink my wine unmixed, prattle with the greatest unconcern, eat more frequently, do you think that I have any other reason for doing these things than to scorn and spite the devil who has attempted to spite and scorn me? Would God I could commit some real brave sin to ridicule the devil, that he might see that I acknowledge no sin and am not conscious of having committed any. We must put the whole law entirely out of our eyes and hearts,--we, I say, whom the devil thus assails and torments. Whenever the devil charges us with our sins and pronounces us guilty of death and hell, we ought to say to him: I admit that I deserve death and hell; what, then, will happen to me? Why, you will be eternally damned! By no means; for I know One who has suffered and made satisfaction for me. His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Where He abides, there will I also abide.

Hartmann Grisar provides an alternate translation:

Sometimes it is necessary to drink more freely, to play and to jest and even to commit some sin (peccatum aliquod faciendum) out of hatred and contempt for the devil, so that he may get no chance of making a matter of conscience out of mere trifles; otherwise we shall be vanquished if we are too anxious about not committing sin. ... Oh that I could paint sin in a fair light, so as to mock at the devil and make him see that I acknowledge no sin and am not conscious of having committed any! I tell you, we must put all the Ten Commandments, with which the devil tempts and plagues us so greatly, out of sight and out of mind. If the devil up braids us with our sins and declares us to be deserving of death and hell, then we must say: I confess that I have merited death and hell, but what then? Are you for that reason to be damned eternally? By no means. I know One Who suffered and made satisfaction for me, viz. Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Where He is, there I also shall be.

Grisar and O'Hare are using two different sources. O'Hare is using Dr. Martin Luthers Briefe, Sendschreiben und Bedenken (5 volumes of letters), and Grisar is using the Weimar Edition of Luther's Works (which includes 11 volumes of letters). Interestingly, O'Hare actually cites the letter elsewhere in his book.

Usually this letter is singled out because of the counsel Luther gave to his friend to "drink more freely." For this quote though, Luther's alleged aversion to the Ten Commandments is in view. This is hardly the case, as I've documented here. When Luther makes strong statements against the Law, it's always the Law considered as a means of salvation or justification.


Andrew said...

Mr. Swan,

What would you recommend to someone who was looking for an even handed, accurate biography of Luther? I have become interested in learning more about the man. I do have a book entitled "Luthers Works, Vol.21". It's his commentary on the sermon on the mount and the magnificat. It's pretty good, but i am interested in a biography. What say you?

James Swan said...

Hi Andrew,

I sort of answered this here:


For a good biography, Heiko Oberman's Luther: Man Between God and the Devil is a good read. Bainton is good, but can be a little dull.

The Luther book I most recommend isn't really a biography:

Gerhard O. Forde's, On Being A Theologian Of The Cross: Reflections On Luther's Heidelberg Disputation, 1518.

Ignore the dull title- it is really my favorite book on the nuts and bolts of Luther's theology. It's a short read that packs a powerful punch. I lent my copy to a friend, and he says it bulldozed him.

Andrew said...

Okay, thank you very much.