Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Luther: We eat and drink to kill ourselves, up to our last farthing

The following is from the web page Luther, Exposing the Myth, under the heading "On Drunkenness":

Christ Taught (in the words of St. Paul): “Know you not that the unjust shall not possess the kingdom of God? Do not err: Neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers: Nor the effeminate nor liars with mankind nor thieves nor covetous nor drunkards” [1 Cor 6:9 ]. Luther teaches: “We eat and drink to kill ourselves, we eat and drink up to our last farthing”[Weimar, Vo. 9. pg. 215]. We can also note on this point that the opinion of Luther’s contemporaries on the subject is unmistakable. They all agree that Luther “was addicted to over-drinking.” - Th. Brieger: “Aleander and Luther”, pg. 170, 307].

Luther Exposing the Myth says their stated purpose is to show that "from Luther’s own words we shall see him for what he really was, that is a rebellious apostate, who abandoned the faith and led many into apostasy from God under the guise of “reformation” in order to follow his perverse inclinations." With this quote, they attempt to show Luther promoted drunkenness, and that Luther was a drunk.

DocumentationFirst, it should pointed out that it isn't 1 Corinthians 6:9 that refers to drunkards, but rather 1 Corinthians 6:10.  Luther, Exposing the Myth then cites Weimar, Vo. 9. pg. 215. This source and page can be found here (Schriften und Predigten 1509/21 ). There's nothing even remotely close to the quote cited on this page. The reason why is, it appears to me the quote was taken from Peter Wiener's Martin Luther, Hitler's Spiritual Ancestor, page 33. Wiener states,
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.” At another time he feels more guilty. “According to the saying, we have to comply with the habit. The days are bad, people are worse, our acts more than bad. Up to now drunkenness has prevented me from writing, or reading anything readable; living with men, I had to live as they do.” It is abundantly clear that Luther liked drinking—and often not within reason. “I have brought on headache by drinking old wine in the Coburg, and this our Wittenberg beer has not yet cured. I work little, and I am forced to be idle against my will because my head must have a rest.” “If I have a can of beer, I want the beer-barrel as well”. “I am but a man prone to let himself be swept off his feet by society, drunkenness, the movements of the flesh” (W9, 215, 13). And again, “What is needed to live in continence is not in me.”
Luther, Exposing the Myth simply took the first reference it saw, not realizing that Wiener's book is poorly documented, if documented at all. This part, "We can also note on this point that the opinion of Luther’s contemporaries on the subject is unmistakable. They all agree that Luther “was addicted to over-drinking.” - Th. Brieger: “Aleander and Luther”, pg. 170, 307]" is found in one of the immediately following paragraphs in Weiner also:
His bad state of health in his later years, he ascribed himself to drink. “For almost a month past I have been plagued not only with noises but with actual thundering of my head, due, perhaps to the wine, perhaps to the malice of Satan.” “I am troubled with a sore throat such as I never had before; possibly the strong wine has increased the inflammation, or perhaps it is a buffet of Satan.” The opinion of his contemporaries on the subject is unmistakable. They all agree that Luther “was addicted to over-drinking” (Th. Brieger: “Aleander and Luther”, pp. 170, 307).
"Th. Brieger: “Aleander and Luther”, pp. 170, 307" refers to Brieger, Theodor. Quellen und Forschungen zur Geschichte der Reformation: I. Aleander und Luther 1521. Die vervollständigten Aleander-Depschen nebst Untersuchungen über den Wormser Reichstag. I. Abteilung. Gotha: Friedrich Andreas Perthes, 1884. Luther, Exposing the Myth probably has no idea who Theodor Brieger was, nor did they actually read pages 170 or 307 of his book. If they did, they actually translated the texts cited from the German, which does not seem likely. It's more probable they took it from Weiner.

Even with a bogus reference, I was still able to determine some possible references. First, Hartmann Grisar uses a similar quote, "We eat ourselves to death, and drink ourselves to death; we eat and drink ourselves into poverty and down to hell." Oddly, Grisar doesn't document it (typically his documentation is vast and flawless). This at least is a clue that something similar to the quote used by Luther, Exposing the Myth exists. Peter Wiener (cited above) does provide a helpful clue: the year 1532. This source verifies the year by citing a similar scatological Luther statement,  "We eat ourselves to death; we drink, sleep, fast and s*** ourselves to death" and "We, he said, eat, grow fat and quench our thirst And fill our bellies till we burst. We s*** and f**t ourselves to death." The comment was said to be made in Wittenberg at the outbreak of dysentery in 1532. It also gives a reference to Luther's Tischreden volume II, no. 1781, which can be found here.

Possible Context

If this is indeed the text Wiener cited, the statement reads in part,
Intemperance. We eat ourselves to death, We s*** ourselves to death, we drink ourselves to death, we work ourselves to death, we fast ourselves to death. The whole thing against intemperance. he said this since the illness was going around Wittenberg. What a cause to be proud.
The footnote states:
We eat ourselves to death, drink ourselves to death; we eat and drink ourselves poor and into hell; we sweat ourselves to death. This is what Luther said when the "disease" reigned in Wittenberg. "We certainly have reason to be proud and haughty!"
It's quite possible the quote as cited by Luther, Exposing the Myth (or Peter Wiener) combined these two versions.  The only odd word cited by Luther, Exposing the Myth is "farthing." That though could be based on "We work ourselves to death." 

If this is the source for the quote, it should be kept in mind the Table Talk is a collection of second-hand comments and anecdotes written down by Luther's friends and students published after his death. In other words, Luther didn't write the Table Talk. Since the statements contained therein are purported to have been made by Luther, they should serve more as corroborating second-hand testimony to something Luther is certain to have written.

 Luther, Exposing the Myth stated that Luther teaches drunkenness in this quote. Rather though, the quote is a description (or passing comment) on the 1532 outbreak of dysentery in Wittenberg. He wasn't promoting drunkenness in this quote, whichever translation one uses. One of Luther's most severe Roman Catholic critics, historian Hartmann Grisar thinks "Here Luther is merely speaking against the habit of drinking which had become so prevalent, and dominated some to such an extent that death and hell were the lamentable consequences to be feared." Since it's a mere few sentences without a context, speculating as to its precise meaning isn't an option.

Grisar also states, states, "Luther's enemies must resign themselves to abandon some of the proofs formerly adduced for his excessive addiction to drink." This appears to be one of those proofs. Grisar states of Luther,
It is not true that the scene of his conviviality was a tavern where he was wont to consort of an evening with his friends and pupils. The account in question is a fabrication. As a matter of fact Luther spent his evenings with his family, in the one-time monastery where, with Catherine von Bora, he was usually surrounded by those who were associated with him in his work, pupils or newcomers.
Nor is it true that he drank to excess. The so-called fanatics, the Anabaptists, who were often strict in outward appearance, as well as misinformed Catholic opponents, propagated unconfirmed rumors to this effect. Some controversial writers discovered a pretext for these accusations in certain misunderstood utterances of his. But these critics overlooked the fact that their charges were based upon jocose speeches or innocent quips by a man who was not always cautious in his utterances. It is nowhere credibly reported that Luther was drunk, even though there is evidence to show that he imbibed rather freely, according to the prevailing German custom. He was not exactly a model of abstemiousness, but he severely censured the excesses of princes and courtiers. In theory he was undoubtedly too compliant when he permitted a "good drink" (which in those days meant a considerable quantity) in cases of depression of spirit due to evil reports, worries, and heavy thoughts in general, oppression owing to troubles and labor, temptations of the "devil" resulting from sorrow and despondency. In his opinion, sleeplessness and spiritual exhaustion alone were sufficient to justify a "good drink."...
If Luther had been addicted to the use of wine and beer in an excessive manner, he would not have been able to develop his marvelous energy. A drunkard does not write books and pamphlets filled with serious and thought-provoking ideas with the ease and facility with which Luther composed his writings. Even the violent and indecorous controversial tracts of the later period of his life are not saturated with alcohol, as a Protestant writer in America has recently endeavored to demonstrate; but they evince the spirit of an infernal hatred which is to be adjudged pathological. The so-called "drunken doctor" (doctor plenus) must be obliterated from history. [Martin Luther, His Life and His Work, pp. 356-358].
Beginning on page 206 of an early edition of his book Luther in the Light of Recent Research, Heinrich Boehmer addressed Luther and alcohol. In part, Boehmer says,
Luther in speech and writing fought drunkenness more vehemently than any German of that day. He privately and publicly spoke his mind on this point also to princes and even censured his own Elector openly on this account, while he very drastically rebuked the members of the electoral court for the same reason. Nevertheless, he also judges a "good drunk" very mildly. He believed that people who grew violent and vicious from the effects of alcohol ought by all means to avoid drink like poison, but, on the other hand, he held that men who are engaged in dangerous work all week, as, for example, the miners, ought not to be judged harshly if on Sunday they permitted themselves a goodly quantity of liquor. Courtiers also ought not to be grudged a "drunk" after hard physical exertions, though he says that by no means must it be tolerated that they appear every morning as though their heads had been pickled in brine. This indulgent attitude will scarcely meet with approbation today. But in the sixteenth century even such a differentiation was looked upon as narrow-mindedness, pedantry and philistinism.
Theory in such manners is almost always the result of personal practice. Therefore, the question arises: Did Luther himself at times allow himself a "good drink" like his father, the old Hans Luther? Indeed, was the Reformer not perhaps a regular toper? It seems advisable that we first consult the physician also on this point. Medical experts teach us that alcoholics are wholly incapable of any fatiguing and continuous mental work. How about Luther in this regard? Let us pick out at random the one or the other year from the various periods of his life in order to determine exactly his working capacity. The year 1521 may be considered first, for it is in that year that, according to Father Denifle, he began drinking. In spite of this he wrote twenty larger or smaller treatises in that period, which in the Weimar edition fill 985 pages. In addition he translated a book by Melanchthon into German, and began the translation of the New Testament and the composition of his postil,besides writing a great number of letters, of which seventy-two are still available. And yet, he was in this eventful year forced to be idle for five weeks owing to travel and on many days was sorely hindered by illness. In 1523 the first attacks of the above mentioned headaches began to impair his well-being; also he traveled about two weeks. Nevertheless, in this twelve months he wrote twenty-four treatises of varying size, preached one hundred and fifty sermons, gave a course of lectures on Deuteronomy which takes up two hundred and forty-seven pages in the Weimar edition, completed the German version of the Pentateuch and began the translation of the remainder of the Old Testament. Besides this, we still possess one hundred and twelve letters of this year — "of course only a fraction of his correspondence." During the five and one-half months he spent at the Koburg in 1530 (April 25 to October 4), "he was so sick in his head" that, as he himself says, he had to rest and remain idle. Despite this fact he in this interval completed twelve works of varying size, finished the translation of Jeremiah, partially translated Ezekiel and all the lesser prophets, edited a number of Aesop's Fables in German, and furthermore, wrote quite a series of opinions and letters, some of which were of considerable length and of which one hundred and twenty-three are still preserved. Finally, we still have the year 1545, of which he spent two months in travel, and when he was already completely exhausted, broken and tired of life, a number of long treatises and a few short ones, also the concluding lectures on Genesis and more than sixty letters and arbitraments.
All told Luther published about three hundred and fifty treatises, among them, it is true, a series of translations and a great number of pamphlets. In literary productivity at best the Jesuit Gretscher (two hundred and sixty eight treatises), Augustine (two hundred and thirty-two) and Origen can vie with him. And this fertility is with Luther not merely quantitative, as in the case of Gretscher. The Reformer appears almost inexhaustible in expressions as well as in ideas. He certainly is the first great German man of letters, and at the same time among the writers of all ages one of the richest in form and thought. These observations for the medical expert do away with the "alcoholic" Luther. A drunkard would, alone from the point of view of physical endurance, not have been equal to such a tremendous burden of work, much less would he have been able to bear the excitement of the colossal battles which the Reformer had to fight.
Of course, this does not exclude the possibility that the great fighter occasionally indulged in a "good drink." We may say that whole generations of investigators and inquisitors have been at pains to collect evidence to substantiate this charge. Their great labors have, however, so far been futile, for all their proofs have later been shown to be invalid. If Luther, for instance, writes: "I am now not drunk nor indiscreet," this is only a forcible mode of assertion, for in the same sense he writes: Christ was not drunk when he spoke the sacramental words of the Holy Eucharist, God is not drunk, the Evangelists are not drunk. When Wolfgang Musculus, in 1536, at the time of the Wittenberg Concord reports: On May the twenty-first we accompanied Luther home after the meal, he was wonderfully hilarious (mire hilaris), . . . during the evening potion in his home he again was wonderfully hilarious and very amiable, and when just prior he says of Melanchthon: Wonderfully exhilarated he discussed astrology at the table, this all does not prove that the two Reformers were intoxicated but merely that they were cheerful. For "hilaiis" in this connection signifies only cheerful happy and not hilarious. When in March, 1523, Luther at Schweinitz vomited before the meal, this does not prove that during the meal he had become intoxicated from Grueneberger wine, but that at the time he suffered from digestive derangement. And if in this period the vomiting recurred daily it does not show that Luther every day drank until he became nauseated but merely that he was ill. 
However, did not Luther once sign a letter with the significant words; Doctor plenus? (the "full" Doctor). Fortunately the missive has been preserved in the original. The word we find is naturally not "plenus" but "Johannes," the name of little Hans Luther, who is sending greetings to his sponsor. The situation is the same in the famous confession in the letter of the second of July, 1540, to his "Gracious Lady of Zuelsdorf at the New Hog Market," in which he says: "I am guttling like a Bohemian and toping like a German, thanks be to God, Amen." The tone of the whole document, and one must, of course, read it in full, shows that we have here a playful exaggeration. This is, besides, proven abundantly from a similar letter of the sixteenth of July to the same address. The message is also extant in the original and we read there: "Thank God we are here cheerful and well, glutting like Bohemians, though not very — and guzzling like Germans, though not much, but we are happy."
So these proofs, also, lead us nowhere. There remains the "notorious verse": "Who loves not wine, woman and song, remains a fool his whole life long." This is, indeed, perhaps the most frequently cited utterance of Luther. However, it is not by Luther but very probably originated with Johann Heinrich Voss. The latter first published it in 1777 in the Wandsbecker Bote, and when pressed for the exact source of his citation was not able to give it. It is possible that he merely translated a rhymed Italian saying: "Who loves not wine, women and song (canto) is either a fool or a saint (santo) and as a sworn adherent of Enlightenment suppressed the saint. It may also be that he made use of one of the Table Talks of Luther which, however, was meant in quite another way. It runs: "One must bear with the weaknesses of every country: The Bohemians gluttonize, the Wends steal, the Germans drink immoderately. For how would you now excel a German, except it be in drinking, especially one who does not love music and women?" These "proofs," therefore, all of them do not bear up under criticism, and others which are adduced besides have about the same value, as, for instance, the evidence about the supposed illegitimate son of Luther, Andrew, who in reality was his nephew.
Luther never says that he had been intoxicated, and no one ever saw him drunk, otherwise we would surely know about it, for if ever a man lived in a glass house it was Luther. This again naturally does not prove that the Reformer was an anti-alcoholic. In fact, Luther, as an advocate of prohibition would be as much an unhistorical fantasy as Luther the drunkard. When in August, 1540, he says: "I drink also, but not every person ought to try and imitate me," when he says that God ought to give him credit for occasionally taking a good draught in his honor, and when he writes to a melancholiac: "I frequently drink more copiously in order to vex the devil," this all proves sufficiently that Luther was by no means averse to a good drink. Without doubt he was very fond of good wine, either the Jueterbock, Grueneberg, Franconian, Rhenish or Rinvoglio vintage. Furthermore, he liked Torgau and Naumburg beer very much though he was given this pleasure very rarely, ordinarily he had to be satisfied with the murky and not very excellent home brew of his severe spouse.
However, there were times when in the Black Cloister there was a dearth not only of beer but also of money. Under those circumstances the Reformer was, willy-nilly, forced to forego his accustomed beverage for forty days or more. And it really seems as though this privation was not an easy matter for him. For Luther valued beer in the first place as a diuretic.
Secondly, as a remedy for his bad digestion he made medical observations about it at times — and finally,as a narcotic. In his last years he suffered greatly from insomnia so that "he had to seek his pillow and bolster in the tankard." This explains why some particularly conscientious investigators assiduously endeavored to determine the amount of alcohol he imbibed daily, and the maximum quantity which he on special occasions was capable of consuming. However, all such investigations and computations have so far brought no results. This problem of research on Luther will hence perhaps always remain unsolved and will vex many an inquisitor in much the samemanner as the devil vexed Doctor Luther.
Luther the drunkard and toper, therefore, never existed, and no one ever saw him intoxicated. Of all these accusations only the one fact remains that Luther regularly drank his beer and was fond of good wine, that on special occasions he loved to have a good drink, and that in his age he was wont to combat insomnia by taking "a more copious draught" in the evening. We may fittingly doubt, however, that this by no means overdue indulgence in alcoholic beverages was always good for his health. According to present-day opinion, at least, only the alcohol which they do not drink is beneficial to people who are nervous and suffer from the stone. But the medical art of the sixteenth century was still in the stage of complete scientific innocence. It had not the least notion as yet of the harmful effects of this poison. Therefore, it also did not make the slightest effort to curb the use and abuse of spirituous beverages. On the contrary, it advised copious drinking, without distinction as to materials as a remedy for the stone.


James Swan said...

I know, fairly dull stuff, but there's very few things I like more than vindicating the good doktor.

Thanks to Brigitte for helpful translation and comments. Also on her blog she's been posting great information from Brecht's bio of Luther:

Brecht is probably the closest thing to an offical biography of Luther.

It's almost time to contact the hosts of Luther, Exposing the Myth and find out what type of Roman Catholics they are. There are some internet e-pologists that claim to be noble amongst the Protestant savages.

Brigitte said...

There remains the "notorious verse": "Who loves not wine, woman and song, remains a fool his whole life long."

I like "notorious" in quotation marks because that would have been one of Luther's points: there is nothing wrong in enjoying God's good gifts (in the appropriate ways).

What confounds me is how these accusations are always lobbed at him when it was the Roman church which was completely corrupt at the time: everything for money, adultery and drunkeness--the church was a joke to the world and humanists; it was grievous to all Christians, including Luther.