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Sayings of Martin Luther (1483-1546)

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Sayings of Martin Luther (1483-1546)

Two of Luther’s sayings that cannot be documented:

It is better to be ruled by a wise Turk than a ignorant Christian.

Luther was asked, “What would you do if you knew the world would end tomorrow?”

“I would plant an apple tree.” he answered. (It sounds like it comes from his Table Talks.)

Rather than philosophy, Luther would have wanted to study theology: “I mean that theology which searches out the meat of the nut and the kernel of the grain and the marrow of the bones.” In a letter to John Braun, March 17th, 1509 (It’s not in Luther’s Works, vol. 48.)

“Faith is a mighty, active, restless, and busy thing, which immediately renews the person, gives a second birth, and leads the person into new ways and into new being.”

The context of this saying: “The real faith of which we speak, will not allow itself to be made out of our thought, because it is a pure work of God in us, without our being able to add anything we do to it. Thus St. Paul says in Romans 5:15: “It is God’s gift of grace won for us through Christ.” That is why it is such a mighty, active, restless, and busy thing, which immediately renews the person, gives a second birth, and leads the person into new ways and into new being. It is impossible for this same self not to do good works, continuously, [spontaneously] without interruption.” (WA 10.3: 285.24-30.)

From Otto Clemen, Luthers Werke in Auswahl, Erster Band, unter Mitwerkung von Albert Leitzmann, (Berlin: Verlag von Walter de Gruyter & Co., 1929). (To translate: Otto Clemen: Selected Works of Luther, volume 1, with help from Albert Leitzmann.)

These sayings come from Luther’s early pamphlet writings: from “A Sermon on the Preparation for Dying,” “The Sacrament of Repentance,” “The Sacrament of Baptism,” “A Sermon about the Very Worthy Sacrament of the True and Holy Body of Christ and the Brotherhoods,” “A Sermon on the Ban,” and “A Sermon about Good Works.” (1519-1520). (They are my translations. Sentences in [brackets] are words that are understood or are mine.) In some cases I polished the style. Why do I do that?

Luther once said that Melanchthon had style and substance, that he himself had substance but no style, and that Carlstadt had neither style nor substance! So that’s my rationale. But I always say when I am polishing his sayings.

Luther’s Sayings

Christ is nothing other than pure life. (page 165:line 22)

You have to let God be God! (166:27-28)

What we believe is what will happen to us. (169:30-31) and again (177: 5-6)

As much as you believe is as much as you have. (180:27-28) Glaubstu, so hastu!

The promises and accomplishments of the real God have to be great. (170:3-4)

What help [to you] are all signs [i.e., miracles], [if you are] without faith? (171:6)

If you believe in the signs and the Word of God, then God will keep an eye on you. (171:38-39)

High mountains are angels. (172:11)

Context for the saying above: Those who trust in God shall be unmoved, like Mt. Zion. It will remain forever. High mountains (those are angels) surround him and God himself encircles his people, until now and even unto eternity (Psalm 90). (10-13)

This holy, comforting Word of God, so rich with grace, has to be taken to the very bottom of each Christian person’s heart. (176:27-29)

The word does not exist for the sake of the priest, bishop, and pope; but the priest, bishop, and pope are there for the sake of the word, to honor it as those who bring to you your Word of God and the Good News that you are rid of your sin. (177:35-38)

There is no greater sin than when one does not believe in the article about the forgiveness of sin, as we pray daily through faith; and this is the sin called, “the sin against the Holy Spirit,” which strengthens every other sin and makes unforgivable [even] to the ages of  eternity. (179:10-13)

To polish this saying: The unwillingness to forgive is the unforgivable sin.

For they want to confirm God’s Word through their works, which they should confirm by their faith: thus they set about placing supports under the sky, which they should be supported by, that is, they will not allow God to be merciful, but will have God only for a judge, who will give nothing for nothing, but only if it is first paid for. (180:13-17)

Polishing the saying: Believe in grace! The sky is what you’re supported by!

(Context the saying above: For what do they do other than their wanting to achieve certainty through their doing, together with wanting to establish and strengthen God’s Word through their works, which they should only confirm by faith; thus they set about placing supports under the sky, by which, however, they should be supported; that is, they will not allow God to be merciful, but will have God only for a judge, who will give nothing for nothing, but only if it is first paid for. (180:11-17)

The office of the keys is not meant to serve the clergy, but only us, the laity. (181:2-3)

They ban, threaten, and plague [everyone with the office of the keys], making out of a lovely comforting power, an exercise of pure tyranny. (181:10)

The whole church has to be full of the forgiveness of sin. (184:8)

The [Sacrament of Holy Body of Christ] means the completely unified and undivided communion of saints. (197:6-7) also (213:36)

Take heart with fresh new strength; you do not fight alone: great help and support surround you. (198:39-199:1)

Baptism is the beginning and entering into the new life. (200:19)

Somewhat polished: Baptism is the beginning of your entry into the new life.

[The sacrament of Holy Communion] is a certain sign, through which we are made one and embodied in Christ so that all our sorrow is held in common. (200:24-26)

Polished: Through communion we are embodied in Christ so all our sorrow is held in common.

On Holy Communion: As we are sorry to see, many masses are held, and in spite of it, Christian communion, which should be preached,  practiced, and presented in the example of Christ, goes under, and to such an extent that we do not even know what the sacrament does and what it is used for. (201:18-23)

Sad to say that it is through many masses that communion (Gemeinschaft) is destroyed and wronged. (201:22-23)

Wherever love does not grow day by day, changing the person to become common with everyone, the fruit of this sacrament is not present. (202:16-18)

“Oh, this is a great sacrament,” says St. Paul, “in which Christ and the Church become one flesh and bone” (Ephesians 5:32). (202: 32-33)

We are made one with Christ by this sacrament and are embodied with all the saints. (203:6-7)

Context for the saying above: We are made one with Christ by this sacrament and are embodied with all the saints; so that Christ therefore accepts us, does things and leaves them undone, as if he was what we are and what concerned us, also concerned him, and more than they concerned us. And in return, we might also, therefore, accept him, as if we were what he is, so that our conformation to Christ finally happened, as John says. (203:6-11) [That is, “When Christ is revealed, we will be like him.” (1 John 3:3)].

We are conformed to Christ [by our mutual acceptance]. (203:11)

Christ and all the saints draw near you with all their virtues, sorrows, and graces (favors) to live with you, do and leave undone, suffer and die; and want to be completely yours and share all things with you in common. If you practice and strengthen this faith, you will sense what a joyful kingdom, wedding feast, and full life, your God has prepared for you at the altar. (204:20-25)

Through love you become changed into each other. (205:5-6)

One should regard Christ’s natural body as less significant than his spiritual body. (205:18-19)

[Externalism of Worship]

We do not see this opinion of Christ, and we go about daily giving and hearing masses and in this devotion, one day remains the same as another, and, yes, with each day becoming worse, without even feeling it. Thus look up! It is more necessary for you to regard first the spiritual and then the natural body of Christ and it is more necessary to believe in the spiritual than the natural body of Christ. (205:23-28)

For the natural without the spiritual is no help in this sacrament: a change must happen and be experienced and practiced through love. (205:28-29)

[The common or spiritual body of Christ – is internal. It is relational, reciprocal, and mutual trust.] (206)

Opus operatum and opus operantis are useless human words, more hindering than furthering [helpfulness]. (206:22-23)

With so many [private] masses we only raise up more disgrace. (206:35-36)

For us the sacrament is a ford, a bridge, a door, a ship, a stretcher on, in, through which we travel (through the Red Sea over the Jordan River) from this world to eternal life. (208:8-10)

[Like the aberrations of the temporal kingdom along with the diocese of a prince bishop, the brotherhoods formed another distortion of the communion that the sacrament intended.] So the communion of the saints, Christian love, and basic fellowship, which are established by this holy sacrament, go under for the sake of self-serving love. (209:39-210:1)

They just look out to get what’s theirs. (210:10)

What happens in love shapes up this way: it does not seek its own, nor its own interest, but that of the other and before all, that of the common [good]. (211:26-28)

[If you understand this sacrament,] then you have to grieve for the wretched state of today’s Christianity. If you do not find assurance in Christ and the saints and you do not regard, and are not moved by the wretched neediness of Christianity and each and every neighbor; then watch out and forget all your other good works, by which you think you are upright and want to be saved. They are certainly more hypocrisy, facade, deception, [that is,] window-dressing, than they are love and communion, because love fulfills the law. (212:4-11)

To make many laws is to string many wires to trip up poor folks. (225:11-12)

No one should ban or be banned from the Gospel and its preaching: the Word of God should remain free for everyone to hear. (226:5-7)

As a heathen said, “A spider web catches the small flies, but the millstones go right through it.” (282:41-283:1)

The little word, “testament,” is a brief summary that through Christ is filled with all the gracious favors and wonders of God. (303:29-30)

Now without trust one does not have a good conscience before God; the head of your works is chopped off, and all their life and goodness becomes nothing. (230:4-6)

When our hearts punish and bite us, [remember] that God is greater than out hearts. (230:30-31) See 1 John: “We reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us: for God is greater than our hearts.” (3:19-20)

See how very highly I lift up faith and pull all works into it and reject all works that do not flow out of it. (230:38-231:2)

The [first] commandment as the very first, the highest, and best is the one out of which all the others flow and [to which] they return and they are all judged and measured by it. (234:33-35)

From “A Sermon on the New Testament, that is, the Mass:”

For we poor people, since we live in our five senses, have to have, at least at first besides the words, an external sign that we can hold on to and gather around. That sign, itself, however, has to be a sacrament, that is, [something] outward that still contains and means the spiritual; so that through the external we are drawn into the spiritual. We grasp the outward with the eyes of our body and the spiritual, internal with the eyes of our heart. (303:4-10)

A Scholarly Note: Otto Clemen’s Selected Works of Luther are slightly closer to Luther’s pamphlets, the way they were first published, than the definitive edition of Luther’s Works from Weimar. Otto Clemen uses the virgula, that is, the slash for most of the punctuation, while the Weimar Edition uses modern punctuation, which often constitutes a step of interpretation. The virgulas were put in by the printers and they were not in Luther’s hand-written manuscripts, but when he proof-read the work of the printer, he probably checked them out for errors.

In another post I translated (303:4-10) above more literally and there I scanned a picture, not of Otto Clemen’s edition, but from a copy of the pamphlet itself. The virgulas or slashes used for punctuation can be seen there. Luther’s “New Testament, that is, the Mass” of 1520

More Luther Sayings, posted June 21, 2011 from “Judgment on Monastic Vows” and “To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation.”

Our works are no longer works of the law but of Christ working in us through faith and living in us in everything that we do” (“Judgment on Monastic Vows” LW 44:301).

It seems better to have fallen openly than to have held one’s ground in secret godlessness” (LW 44:302).

Even if all the monks radiated the sanctity of angels, nevertheless, the whole [monastic] institution is still mad and contrary to the commandments of God” (LW 44:328).

As far as celibacy is concerned, who does not know that the inward and intrinsic tyrant in our members is no more within our power than is the ill will of an external tyrant?” (LW 44:339).

It is just as great an impiety to pursue what is to your certain knowledge an error as it is to embrace as truth something about which you are uncertain” (LW 44:345).

What I have to consider is not how confidently you speak, but how truly you speak” (LW 44:346).

All vows should henceforth be optional and subject to a time limit” (LW 44:388).

“’The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. And so the son of man is lord even of the Sabbath.’ Christ said this. I beg you, let us not pass over these majestic words full of comfort and spiritual refreshment” (LW 44:389).

From Luther’s Treatise on Good Works

God is not hostile to sinners, only to unbelievers” (LW 44:64).

They never indicate the right use [of fasting], its limit, its fruit, its cause, and its purpose” (LW 44:76).

Thus faith goes out into works and through works comes back to itself again, just as the sun goes forth to its setting and comes again at its rising” (LW 44:79).

[In ‘Thy kingdom come,’ we pray for the proper Sabbath and true, quiet rest from our own works, so that only God’s works are done in us and that in this way God rules in us as in his own kingdom” (LW 44:80).

Luther’s Humor:

You can’t get a happy fart out of a sad ass.” See Eric Gritsch, The Wit of Martin Luther, (Minneapolis: Foortress Press, 2006). page 114.

More Luther Sayings

More Sayings of Luther: Concerning the Incarnation in Word-Art


Written by peterkrey

December 8, 2010 at 2:55 am

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