Luther’s Delicious Language
Upon the cross Christ
put death to death,
gave the devil to the devil
sent hell to hell,
led captivity captive.
Christ is your death!
Christ is thy destruction.
Sinning against sin,
the Righteousness of Christ,
rose up in the resurrection!
After reading Luther’s Works 26, pages 155-156.
Another Version for a Funeral:
On the cross,
Christ forgave our sins,
gave the devil to the devil,
told hell to go there,
led captivity captive.
Christ is your death!
Buried you in the grave,
sinning against sin,
Christ rose in the righteousness of the resurrection!
Pkrey April 6, 2002 In his Galatians Commentary
Luther speaks about this delicious language,
that negates the negation in so many concrete ways.
let me cling to you solely, pure and wholly, knowing you are my one and only!
While translating for Philip and my Luther’s spirituality book (2007).
A Note found in one of Prof. Robert Goeser’s books, written in 2003 or 2004:
In these [Luther] lectures and the sermon, I want to open up the creativity of Luther’s thought, which is moving and contemporary in contrast to what is often seen as primarily doctrinal definition. His narrative style – amazingly in his interpretation of Scripture – brings not just stories but encounter with our revelation of ourselves. The past stories become contemporary encounters. With such language comes ethical demand – more than we sometimes realize. To put it differently: reading of Scripture and proclamation are always profoundly experienced.
(This in a nutshell depicts some basic themes that Prof. Goeser taught in “Advanced Luther Readings” when I was his teaching assistant.)
It is a very good demonstration of what themes were discussed in his classes, what experiences we encountered with him there, and his theological rationale for his Luther interpretation. He presents Luther’s commentary on the book of the Prophet Jonah and explains how Luther isolates trust in the goodness of our gracious God within this world of history. He finds Luther in the drama and moral rebirth of the moment making his words become an event with encounter, because we usually read the text knowing how it will come out. The actors, however, did not know how their story would end. The words of Luther become what is the opposite of words. They catapult the readers into the experience of the shattering of their pretentious ideal selves, where they feel like “a breed apart” and have to join the human race, own their past, and live out of God’s grace. At the end of his essay, Goeser cites some of John Calvin’s same commentary on Jonah and the difference between Luther and Calvin cannot be better underscored. Calvin writes about what Luther and Jonah, if you will, really experienced.
Luther once said that Melanchthon had style and substance, that he himself (Luther) had substance but not style, and that Carlstadt had neither style nor substance!
Sayings of Martin Luther (1483-1546)
(posted December 8, 2010)
From Otto Clemen, Luthers Werke in Auswahl, Erster Band, unter Mitwerkung von Albert Leitzmann, (Berlin: Verlag von Walter de Gruyter & Co., 1929).
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.)
Some Luther 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)
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)
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)
(Context for 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)
[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)
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 concept 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)
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.
“It is one thing to change and quite another to make an improvement; the one stands in human hands and God’s ordaining, the other in God’s hands and gracious favor.”
In German: Dass Ändern und Bessern sind zweierlei. Eines stehet in der Menschen Händen und Gottes Verhängen; das andere in Gottes Händen und Gnaden. “Exegesis of Psalm 101,” H.H. Borcherdt and Georg Merz, editors, Martin Luthers Ausgewählte Werke, vol. 5, Zweite veränderte Auflage, (München: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1936), p. 428. Or see LW 13: 217. The English is my translation.
We think we are hiding our sins, but they are really hiding us. From LW 7, page 38.