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Luther: A Life by John M. Todd


John M. Todd is the author of a number of books, including Reformation, and John Wesley and the Catholic Church. Luther: A Life was published in 1982 by The Crossroad Publishing Company. This book was prepared for Religion Online by Harry W. and Grace C. Adams.


Chapter 14: Into Battle Again


Luther was still university professor and local preacher, and more than ever virtually the master of Wittenberg. In many ways, however, it was a new world. The old Elector had died and in his place was a man, not young but at least able to attend to business expeditiously. He was already showing active signs of coping with requests about the University administration, though he had been irritated by Luther’s impatience. The civil war had ended and rebellion been put down. The general sense of threatening unrest had, for the moment, abated. Karlstadt had gone off on his travels; the reformers on the left, in Saxony and Thuringia, Luther’s ‘Schwarmerei’, were lying low. Luther was a respectable married man with a stable household, settled in the old Friary. There were regular meals and someone to rely on; Seeberger had stayed on to assist the new household. There was talk of Katie’s aunt, also an ex-nun, joining the household. Eventually she did, adding to the feeling of familial stability. Luther quickly adapted to marriage. At the personal level almost everything was better. Luther had a new lease of life.

Wittenberg itself had settled down. The reformed Mass, in German rather than Latin, Luther’s own text using adapted plain chant and folk modes and melodies, was inaugurated in Wittenberg in the autumn of 1525. And in spite of frequent news of fresh ‘wrong headed’ reforms arising in the west, some of the international news was good. Luther heard that the Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights, Albert of Hohenzollern, had declared himself Duke of Prussia and put through Lutheran reforms.

Society at large was in a low state and gave cause for concern both because of the results of war and plague and because of the loosening of the old religious bonds. It had become urgent to give people and priest some detailed idea of how to carry on. The Elector came to see Luther in Wittenberg about it; they worked out a detailed plan which the Elector took away with him. With this personal contact Luther had a greater sense of security than under his predecessor, the so-reticent ‘Wise’ elder brother of the Elector. He turned again to his desk and to Erasmus’s Discourse on Free Choice, which had lain unwontedly unanswered for more than a year.

That I have taken so long to reply to your Discourse, venerable Erasmus, has been contrary to everyone’s expectation and to my own custom; for hitherto I have seemed not only willing to accept, but eager to seek out opportunities of this kind for writing. There will perhaps be some surprise at this new and unwonted forbearance — or fear! — in Luther, who has not been roused even by all the speeches and letters his enemies have flung about, congratulating Erasmus on his victory . . . I yield you a palm such as I have never yielded to anyone before; for I confess not only that you are far superior to me in powers of eloquence and native genius (which we must all admit, all the more as I am an uncultivated fellow who has always moved in uncultivated circles — barbarus in barbarie versatus) but you have quite damped my spirit and eagerness, and left me exhausted before I could strike a blow.

However, within a few sentences Luther was settling down to abuse. It had hardly seemed worth replying since what Erasmus had said had been refuted so often, and has been beaten down and completely pulverised by Melancthon’s Commonplaces — an unanswerable little book. . .Compared with it, your book struck me as so cheap and paltry that I felt profoundly sorry for you, defiling, as you did, your very elegant and ingenious style with such trash, and quite disgusted at the utterly unworthy matter that was being conveyed in such rich ornaments of eloquence, like refuse or dung being carried in gold and silver vases.

Luther was well launched on the reply. For nine years he had been privately expressing his strong distaste for Erasmus’s theology. Now he was saying it publicly. How could the great scholar, whose Greek text of the New Testament had opened up the original words of the Word, be so superficial when it came to theology, indeed to a true understanding of the text?

The answer was not far to seek. For Erasmus, theology was a byword for hypocrisy and irrelevance and word spinning. In In Praise of Folly he had written, amongst other such sharp words: I myself once heard a great fool (a great scholar I would have said) undertaking in a laborious discourse to explain the mystery of the Holy Trinity. In unfolding it, in order to show his own cleverness and reading, and satisfy itching ears, he proceeded with a new method, expounding letters, syllables and proposition, the harmony of noun and verb, and that of noun substantive, and noun adjective . . . At last he . . . demonstrated the whole Trinity to be represented by these first rudiments of grammar, as clearly and plainly as it was possible for a mathematician to draw a triangle in the sand.’ Luther agreed with something of this caricature but wanted to put a right theology in its place. Erasmus wanted simply to get rid of theoretical theology as far as possible.

The original texts, first of the New Testament, then of the thinkers and leaders of the early Church, were what Erasmus wanted to present to the World. And he wanted the text of the Gospel to be put into the language of ordinary people. His was a world of sweet reasonableness. He envisaged the Church continuing much as it was in essentials, albeit thoroughly purged of all kinds of superstition and corruption, which he tried to outlaw with laughter. Christians should have the text of the New Testament and should try to live by it, with the help of the Church, its pastoral guidance and its sacraments. Theology could be left to the professionals — though from time to time others might need to keep an eye on them. Just such an occasion arose when a reformer began to talk of man’s entire lack of freedom of choice. Then Erasmus thought it was time to throw some common sense on the scene. The absurd doctrine seemed part and parcel of Luther’s extremism, and deserved to be exposed. He considered it was a clear theological and philosophical mistake, which would enable him to accede to the frequent requests of Luther’s enemies in high places, to controvert the extremist. He could do it without compromising over superstitions and corruption.

Luther was never very good at seeing the other man’s point of view when it came to matters of theology. With a man like Erasmus, the gap was unbridgeable. He could not stomach the quiet scholar’s qualifications nor his obeisance to Church authority. How typical of Erasmus it was, he suggested, to object to Luther making assertions: ‘You censure me for obstinate assertions . . . But it is not the mark of the Christian to take no delight in assertions . . . By assertion I mean a constant adhering, affirming, confessing, maintaining, and invincible persevering.’ Erasmus was prepared, with measured tolerance, to accept the Church’s doctrinal decisions, preferring not to argue about them. Here Luther got on to a central matter which lay between them: ‘Is it not enough to have submitted your personal feelings to the Scriptures? Do you submit them to the Church as well? What can she decree that is not decreed in the Scriptures?’ The use and style of authority in the Church, in the interpretation of the Gospel and management of its followers, were at issue. Erasmus wanted to keep both interpretation and management in a low key. Luther wanted the theology to be played loud. He was a medieval theologian. Theology should have a universal range if the discipline was to be meaningful at all. Theology was still the queen of the sciences. For Luther it had become almost synonymous in its style with interpretation of Scripture and preaching. It was concerned with the truth of the Word, of Christ to whom man owed total commitment. He still dreamed of a Church in which the authority of the Word would be self-operative and would not need anything like the kind of detailed organisation which had grown up in the Roman and papal Church in Europe. For Erasmus, theology was a rather tiresome professional necessity, tending towards blurring of fact, and often a threat to genuine scholarship, simple piety and good morals.

The quarrel was tragic in that Luther and Erasmus had a central goal in common. Erasmus said he wanted to hear the farmer singing the words of the New Testament in his own language as he worked. Luther said he wanted the Bible to speak good German, the real German of the housewife and the lad in the street. This drive to communicate what they both understood to be some kind of ultimate truth in the person and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth, the man who showed forth God in his own person, was central to both their lives. They had in common the wish to see all members of the Church having free access in their own language to the great source document. But, from that point on, they differed nearly as widely as it was possible to do.

Erasmus understood that Luther was obsessed with the need for a true understanding of the Gospel and equally with the terrible corruption, functionalism and cynicism of so much of the personnel of the Church. Even after Luther’s scourging of him in this text, he continued to say that people should have listened to Luther and that while Luther had indulged in unacceptable violence, Rome deserved all it got. On the other hand, Luther was quite unable to understand the authenticity of the quiet though often acid scholar dedicated to a policy of neutrality, of attempting as far as possible to stand outside polarising polemic — Erasmus came eventually to wonder whether it might have been better not to have written In Praise of Folly, because it had led to just such polarisation.

Their subject was freedom and the quality of human acts, looked at sub specie aeternitatis; could a man take any step towards his own salvation by his own action? Or did he always need God’s grace, even to make that first gesture towards faith? The truth is, they were often speaking at different levels, Erasmus thinking of the mechanics in the mind, Luther looking at the nature of God as free, necessarily the ultimate author of good and at man’s ultimate dependence on God:

I confess that even if it were possible I should not wish to have free choice given me, . . . by which I might strive toward salvation . . . I should be unable to stand firm . . . Even if I lived and worked to eternity, my conscience would never be assured . . . There would always remain an anxious doubt whether it pleased God. But now since God has taken my salvation out of my hands into his, making it depend on his choice and not mine, and has promised to save me, not by my own work or exertion, but by his grace and mercy, I am assured and certain that he is faithful and will not lie to me. . . if we do less than we should or do it badly, he does not hold it against us. Hence the glorying of all the saints in their God.

The publication at the end of 1525 of his On the Bound Will gave Luther yet another batch of ‘enemies’, and pushed him, in a sense, one step further away from being able to see some kind of general cleansing of the Church, in the way that he thought it must occur. To enemies on the left and enemies on the right he had now added enemies in the centre. His pathological obsession with enemies increased, and from now on Erasmus was sometimes referred to in terms that were absurdly inappropriate. ‘A slippery eel’ he may well have been. But to say of him, as Luther is reported to have done in the ‘Table Talk’, ‘in all his writings there is no statement anywhere about faith in Christ, about victory over sin’ was a calumny . In Erasmus’s most famous book the Enchiridion, precisely a book of advice about coping with temptation he had written, ‘Treat each battle as though it were your last, and you will finish in the end, victorious. It is possible that God might in the end reward you for your virtue by freeing you from your temptation.’

Erasmus eventually wrote a lengthy reply. In April 1526, he sent a letter, very pained at Luther’s violent and aggressive sneers: ‘How do your scurrilous charges that I am an atheist, and Epicurean and a sceptic help the argument? . . .It terribly pains me as it must all good men, that your arrogant, insolent, rebellions nature has set the world in arms’. Luther let it go. It was a final rupture and revealed the glaring weakness of Luther, when he gave himself up to his anger and to attitudes which to others seemed self-righteous, dogmatic and self-indulgent. But Luther found himself at the head of a vast movement, while Erasmus found himself shunting uncomfortably from town to town, from Louvain to Basel, to Freiburg to Basel, in search of tolerance for his quiet Catholic life style, not too welcome either to papists or reformers.

New editions of many of the major Fathers of the first centuries of the Church poured from Erasmus in his last twenty years (1516-36) Jerome, Athanasius, Basil, Cyprian, Irenaeus, Ambrose, Augustine, Hilary, Chrysostom, Origen, Gregory, Nazianzus. He remained faithful to the ideals he had spelt out in his introduction (the Paracelsus) to his Greek New Testament:

To me he is truly a theologian who teaches not by skill with intricate syllogisms but by a disposition of mind, by his very expression and his eyes, by his very life, . . . these writings bring you the living image of His [Christ’s] holy mind and the speaking, healing, dying, rising Christ, and thus they render Him so fully present that you would see less if you gazed upon Him with your very eyes.

It was not far from what Luther sometimes said.

Odium Theologicum, genuine disagreement, resulting in enmity and even hatred, was liable to become as intense in theology as in any discipline; understandably, in that theology was concerned precisely with the definition of human life, the relation of man to the Divine. Theological models still provided the normal medium for most serious discussion of man and his destiny. Today a common model is economic or social — the quality of life as measured by social and political norms is what is most likely to lead to expressions of violent disagreement between people and groups. In the sixteenth century the Renaissance was beginning to provide an alternative model, but theology still predominated: ‘I am sending you, my Michael, my rebuttal of Erasmus, which I completed in a short time and in a hurry. I like your idea that the ruler of this word (Satan) is so powerful in obstructing any fruit of the World and in sowing sects of the ungodly’ (to Michael Stiffel, 31 December 1525). The world was a battlefield and the man of faith had no choice but to align himself. And Luther was able to praise Erasmus for one thing: ‘Unlike all the rest, you alone have attacked the real issues and have not wearied me with irrelevancies about the papacy, purgatory, indulgences and such trifles.’

The letters and memoranda poured out from Luther to the Elector about the University and about the parishes: ‘Your Electoral Grace should have all the parishes in the whole territory inspected.’ Ernestine Saxony should be divided into four or five districts; money should be raised locally to support the pastors. But the Elector did not feel so free to go ahead as Luther assumed. Although secular governments sometimes made supervisory visits to parishes, yet such a formal visitation would be in direct contravention of Canon Law, usurping the rights of the local Bishop. And the Elector was still deeply concerned with the problems of the external relations of his government.

Immediately after the end of the Peasants’ War he was approached by Duke George to line up with an anti-Reformist front. The absolute defeat of the peasants and the general idea of the discomfiture of Luther, led the Duke to suggest to the Elector and to young Philip of Hesse, who had married Duke George’s daughter, that they should stay in alliance with him and cap their victory over the peasants with a victory over the ecclesiastical revolutionaries. His blandishments had the opposite effect. The pro-Reform rulers, encouraged notably by the politically ambitious Philip banded together in the League of Torgau to present a united front at the Imperial Diet, which was to open in Speyer on 25 June 1526.

The international background to the new Diet was turgid. The previous year the Emperor had finally collected an army together, defeated the French at Pavia and taken the French King, Francis II, prisoner to Madrid where he was held until the Treaty of Madrid was signed. But the Treaty soon fell apart. Instead of supporting the Emperor against the Turks, Francis II began to intrigue with the Turks, with the political and military arm of Pope Clement VII, and finally also with reformist rulers in the German speaking lands. The Turks were to attack Spain by sea and go through Hungary into the Spanish territories in Italy. The Pope was keeping strange company. The result of this international circus was a very uncertain voice at the Diet in Germany, presided over by the Emperor’s brother Ferdinand, who attempted once again to get agreement to the formal execution of the decisions of the Diet of Worms. The Emperor and the Pope, who both wanted this, were in fact almost at war. And in any case the pragmatic, somewhat cynical and politically independent attitude of the majority of the members of the Diet remained unchanged. They were not in favour of formally supporting the reforms but neither did they wish to suppress them.

The two extreme parties both kept some initiative; and the result was a compromise. The Reformers were there in force with their preachers, and labelled their doorways VDMIE (Verbum Domini manet in eternum — the Word of the Lord shall remain forever). A famous compromise was agreed: ‘The Electors, Princes, Estates of the Empire and the ambassadors of the same . . .while awaiting the sitting of a Council or a national assembly, agreed. . . each one to live, govern, and carry himself as he hopes and trusts to answer for it to God and his Imperial Majesty.’ In other words there was to be no change.

News of a Turkish advance had hastened the decision which was agreed on 27 August 1526. Two days later the Turks won the battle of Mohacs, and on 10 September they swarmed into Budapest. The neutral decision of the Diet was regarded by the Emperor (occupied in Spain) as a mere stopgap while he saw to his other concerns, the Turks, his European political rivals (including the papacy as a political power), and his Spanish kingdom. He and his advisers looked to a future Council where the Church troubles would be sorted out. In fact, however, Speyer was the first step towards the ‘territorial church’, to a de facto arrangement by which each political unit settled its management of religion according to the decisions of its own rulers. Effectively, this was the first formal act of major political authority leading to the dismemberment of the univocal structure for the Church throughout Europe, other than the East. Luther woke at night to agonise over the terrifyingly large changes which were flowing from his actions. But the Diet itself he thought little of, seeing it largely as an occasion for the sovereigns to go carousing.

During the spring and summer months of 1526 Luther was much taken up with the affairs of his own household. He was ill from kidney stone. Katie was having their first baby. But the writing still flowed — a stirring criticism of a right wing anti-Reformist Ratschlag or Brief, issued by Cardinal Albrecht to the clergy of Mainz; and the usual lectures and sermons. The Bible translation continued. Luther kept worrying about the state of the parishes. Eventually, things began to move. The Diet of Speyer gave Elector John some kind of a legal basis for proceeding with the plans for the visitation of the parishes which Luther had recommended to him and for more formal claims on so much Church property. In the winter of 1526-7, they began to be put into effect. So the recommendations of Luther’s Prelude on the Babylonian Captivity of the Church were being realised; if the officials of the Myth, the Christian bishops and priests, would not themselves reform the Church then secular officials would do it, as Christians with the responsibility to act in society. Luther was concerned solely with the here and now. He would have been surprised to be told that he was founding an alternative Church, a state Church, with consequences for Centuries to come. He would have been equally surprised to know that Henry VIII of England, with whom he was having an angry exchange of letters, was laying the foundations of another non-papal state church. There was much writing and re-writing of the Instructions for the visitations, and Luther had to mediate when theological argument broke out between Agricola and Melancthon as to whether repentance came before faith, or vice versa. Reports from the parishes began to show an abysmal state of ignorance, in priest and people.

Luther had been in Wittenberg off and on for nineteen years now and knew its people, its paving stones and problems too well. When he was weary, he was very weary. When he thought about the decline in numbers at the University (Duke George had forbidden students living in Albertine Saxony to attend Wittenberg University), the rise of many reformers opposed to him, and so many other problems, it all seemed overwhelming. Illness threw him into new acute attacks of depression. He had fantasies of leaving Wittenberg. He had threatened to depart in his sermons on return from the Wartburg. Now he built a picture of himself earning a living at some practical work, somewhere else. Katie encouraged him to take an interest in gardening and joinery. He wrote in January 1527 to his old friend, the ex-friar Wenceslas Link, now a Reformed pastor in Nuremberg:

‘I wrote a suppliant and humble letter to the King of England. He has answered me with such hostility that he sounds just like Duke George. . . These tyrants have such weak, unmanly, and totally sordid characters that they deserve to be servants of the rabble . . . I appreciate that you promised to send seeds in the spring. Send as many as you can. . . I will turn my attention to the gardens, that is, to the blessings of the Creator, and enjoy them to his praise.’ He continued, a little apologetic and embarrassed by this turning to handwork (shades of Karlstadt on his farm): ‘Since among us barbarians there is neither art nor style of life, I and my servant Wolfgang [Seeberger] have taken up the art of operating a lathe. We are enclosing a gold guilder. . .be so kind as to send us some tools for boring and turnings and what lathe operators call a clamp — any lathe operator can easily tell you what this is . . . If the world should indeed not want to feed us on account of the Word that we preach, then we shall learn how to get our bread through the work of our hands.’ His friends smiled.

Luther found Seeberger not the best of assistants and ironically suggested to Link that he might find them some lathes which would work by themselves so that Seeberger could remain devoted to his beer. Luther had bought Seeberger a plot of his own, and wrote an amusing piece about his activities there, to give expression to his irritation with the man: ‘Complaint of the Birds to Luther against Wolfgang: We thrushes, blackbirds, finches, linnets, goldfinches and other pious birds . . . are credibly informed that one Wolfgang Seeberger, your servant, has conceived a great wicked plot against us . . . has bought, very dear, some old rotten nets to make a trap. . . pray restrain your servant or. . . at least make him spread corn. . . in the evening and not get up in the morning before eight. . . If not. . . we will pray God to plague him . . . and send frogs, grasshoppers, locusts and snails into the trap by day and to give him mice, fleas, lice and bugs . . . Written in our high home in the trees with our usual quill and seal.’

A few days after asking for the tools, a letter from Luther to Nicholas Hausmann provides another part of the current picture. ‘I have no other news except that the Sovereign has replied to the University that he wishes to speed the visitation of the parishes. . . Zechariah is now on the press, ready for publication.’ The Bible translation progressed. ‘At the same time I am attacking the Sacramentarians [those who thought that Sacraments depended for their validity on the faith of those who received them, and denied the Real Presence]. Please pray that Christ may guide my pen successfully and advantageously against Satan. . . I believe you have heard that the cause of the Emperor in Italy has developed successfully. The Pope is afflicted from all sides, so that he will be ruined. His end and his hour have come. But persecution rages everywhere and many are being burned at the stake.’

Again to Link, he wrote in May: ‘Zwingli has sent me a letter along with his most foolish booklet.’ The arguments with the left wing continued and Zwingli considered himself a moderate: ‘He raged, foamed, threatened and roared with such "moderation" that he seems to be incurable . . . May Christ grant that a healthy child has been born to you. Amen. My Katie has nausea again from a second pregnancy. . . All the seeds you sent us have sprung up; only the melons and gourds have not, although such plants are also sprouting — but only in other people’s gardens!’ The saga continued with a letter to Link on 5 July: ‘I congratulate you on the birth of your daughter Margaret . . . I looked forward to this with great eagerness so that you too might experience "the natural" affection of parents for their children . . . We received the tools for the lathe, together with quadrant and clock . . . Tell Nicholas Endrisch that he should feel free to ask me for copies of my books. . .Since I take nothing for my various works, I occasionally take a copy of a book if I want . . . The melons or pumpkins are growing and want to take up an immense amount of space; so do the gourds and water melons. So don’t think you sent the seeds in vain!’

One more letter to Lausanne in July rounds off the sequence. It starts with Luther making the decisive judgements in particular cases for which people no longer turned to the Church officials. Luther was becoming a substitute guardian and bishop: ‘If that man’s case is as he described it, my Nicholas, then I think he may lawfully keep his wife, since the former husband deserted her such a long time ago . . . The visitation has begun. Eight days ago, Dr Hero and Master Philip set out upon this work. . . Rome and the Pope have been terribly laid waste. Christ reigns in such a way that the Emperor who persecutes Luther for the Pope is forced to destroy the Pope for Luther . . . My Katie and little John send greetings. Farewell in Christ. I have had a severe fainting spell, so that even now my head prevents me from reading and writing.’

On 6 May, the Emperor’s army had got out of control, and submitted the city of Rome to an appalling sack, destroying, plundering, raping. The Pope took refuge in the St Angelo Castle by the Tiber, which remained impregnable. Luther sat back and watched his enemies apparently destroying each other — though it was not to be so for long. In any case, it was a time of deepening mental and physical depression for Luther. At the Frankfurt Spring Book Fair, his printers had sent along his full-length reply to numerous works of the other Reformers, Zwingli, Oecolampadius, Pirkheimer, Bucer, Capito and others, on the meaning of those words of Jesus at his Last Supper with his disciples which formed the heart of the Mass, or eucharist:

‘That these Words of Christ "This is my Body", etc., still stand firm against the Fanatics.’ But at the same Fair were further works of Zwingli, propounding his radically different view. Luther felt weighed down by it all. Bugenhagen calling one day found him laid up in bed ‘praying aloud to God the Father, then to Christ the Lord, now in Latin, now in German’. Then in later summer, still ill and liable to fainting fits, came something further for his depression to latch on to, but at the same time a strong physical challenge. The plague struck again at Wittenberg.

The Elector ordered the University to be evacuated to another town; it left for Jena on 15 August, and subsequently to Schlieben. As on the previous occasion of a major outbreak, Luther remained at Wittenberg. Motivation is not too difficult to disentangle. He always believed in meeting trouble head on. He had in some sort a ‘heroic’ nature and lived up to it and to his own reputation. He also had a vastly compassionate nature and loved to give rein to it. At times of plague he nursed and consoled people to the limit of his energy. Bugenhagen, now the parish priest, also remained in Wittenberg. When his sister, who was married to fellow pastor, Deacon Rorer, died, Bugenhagen and his wife moved into the Friary with the Luthers, to get away from the contaminated house. Rorer moved into the Jonas’s empty house — Jonas being in exile with the University. The Mayor’s wife died, Luther with her till the last. Luther’s little son Hans nearly succumbed, and Kate, pregnant with their second child was ill.

The old Friary was more like a hospital. ‘There are battles without and terrors within, and really grim ones; Christ is punishing us. . . pray for us that we may survive bravely under the hand of the Lord and defeat the power and cunning of Satan, be it through living or dying. Amen.’ Luther was asked about the morality of fleeing the plague and in a pamphlet published in Wittenberg said pastors should stay with the dying, and that indeed many others would really do best to stay, officials and those who had responsibilities to neighbours. But, he said, otherwise naturally it was better to go away.

He gave advice on improving hygiene. The cemeteries could be much improved and indeed made into places where there was more reverence. And he had come things to say about pastoral practice which make him sound like the good Catholic parish priest that in some ways he continued to be: ‘Everyone should prepare in time and get ready for death by going to confession and taking the sacrament once every week or fortnight. He should become reconciled with his neighbour and make his will so that if the Lord knocks and he departs before a pastor or chaplain can arrive, he has provided for his world, has left nothing undone and has committed himself to God.’

A letter to Jonas now at the University’s place of exile expressed the extreme anguish of some moments during the plague:

I have not yet read Erasmus [the reply to Luther] or the Sacramentarians . . . These people are right in despising me, miserable one that I am, to follow the example set by Judas. . .I am suffering God’s anger because I have sinned against him. Pope and Emperor, sovereigns and bishops, and the whole world hate and attack me; and even this is not enough, even my brothers torment me. . . What could save and console me if Christ too should abandon me? . . . Oh that God would grant — and again I say, oh that God would grant —that Erasmus and the Sacramentarians could experience the anguish of my heart for only a quarter of an hour. . . Now my enemies are strong and alive they even add grief upon grief and persecute him whom God has smitten. But this is enough — lest I be one who complains about and is impatient with God’s rod, for he smiles and heals, kills and makes alive and is blessed in his holy and perfect will . . . I am concerned about the delivery of my wife, so greatly has the example of the Deacon’s wife frightened me. But He who is mighty has done great things for me. . . My little Johann cannot now send his greetings to you because of his illness, but he desires your prayers for him. Today is the twelfth day that he has eaten nothing; he has been somehow sustained only by liquids. It is wonderful to see how this infant wants to be happy and strong as usual, but he cannot because he is too weak. Yesterday the abscess of Margaret von Mochau [a sister-in-law of Karlstadt whom the Luthers took in] was operated on. . .I have put her in our usual winter room, while we are living in the big front hall. Hanschen is in my bedroom, while the wife of Augustine [Schurff] is staying in his. . . Thus the wickedness of Satan and men!

Thus we Wittenbergers are the object of hate, disgust and fear. . . Martin Luther, dirt for Christ’s sake’ — Lutum Christi. Luther was punning, even now, with a quotation from St Paul, keeping up a front, behind which lay despair and anger at the thought of what he had done, what he was failing to do, and of his sufferings.

During these bad months Luther lectured to a rump of students who had stayed behind. He turned to the thing that kept him going, the doctrine of Christ, expounded by St John in his First Letter. >From now on his lectures tended to progress from concentrating primarily on faith to concentrating primarily on the object of faith. For the rest of his life he preached and lectured on St John, the Gospel and the Letters more than on any text. The first letter of St John in the New Testament opens:

Something which has existed since the beginning,
That we have heard, and we have seen with our eyes;
that we have watched
and touched with our hands:
the Word, who is life —
this is our subject.
That life was made visible:
we saw it and we are giving our testimony.
Telling you of the eternal life
which was with the Father and has been made visible to us.
What we have seen and heard
we are telling you
so that you too may be in union with us.
as we are in Union
with the Father
and with his Son Jesus Christ.
We are writing this to you to make our own joy complete.

Luther pondered on this text, rooted in the writers conviction that he had met the incarnate God, which ended in a tough doctrine of love:

Let us love one another
since love comes from God . . .
We are to love, then,
because he loved us first.
Anyone who says, ‘I love God’,
and hates his brother,
is a liar.

‘God,’ said Luther, is a glowing oven full of love.’ The love from this oven’s heat filled heaven and earth. The warmth of Katie’s oven as she prepared to bake the bread provided Luther with his metaphor as he scribbled notes for his lectures. The heat radiated.

He spoke to his little group in glowing terms of what he called the ‘first article and cardinal point’ of Christian faith, that ‘Christ is in the Father’, quoting from another part of the New Testament: ‘In his body lies the fullness of divinity, and in him you too find your own fulfilment, in the one who is head of every sovereignty and power.’ The lecture became a sermon, and then a lecture again as Bible and theological tradition jostled each other in his exposition of what, formally, was called ‘the incarnation’, ‘the enfleshing of the Word of God’: ‘God places Christ in himself, so that he is utterly and completely made human and we are utterly and completely made divine . . . So now God together with his beloved Son is utterly and completely in you, and you are utterly and completely in him, and all together is one entity — God, Christ and you.’

A further booklet from Zwingli arrived, a reply to Luther’s text on the words ‘This is my body’. Zwingli called it ‘Friendly Rejoinder and Rebuttal to the Sermon of the Eminent Martin Luther against the Fanatics’; he saw himself as an Erasmian and peace-loving, reasonable and humanist, indeed Christian. But his text was laced with sharp criticism of Luther, answering Luther’s violent language with snappish reprimands and demonstrations of the absurdity of Luther’s arguments.

Eventually came the worst days of Luther’s life. ‘For more than a week I was close to the gates of death and hell. . . All my limbs shook. Christ was wholly lost. I was convulsed with despair and blasphemy against God.’ It was a very severe depression, a night of the spirit, utterly unrelieved.

From these desperate days as he emerged from them, came Luther’s most famous hymn: ‘A strong city is our God’ —Ein Feste Burg, ‘a mighty fortress’ in the old translation. Luther was thinking of the old walled cities he knew so well, where a man could be safe behind the high walls with the gates shut. He was thinking of Jerusalem, the heavenly city, he was thinking of Christ — ‘God has established another temple for his dwelling place: the precious manhood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Here and nowhere else God wants to be found.’ Guilt and horror of a practically psychotic intensity had combined with physical illness, and ordinary disappointments, to effect a spiritual desolation which was eventually assuaged by prayer to Christ, by meditation on the person of Jesus Christ, on his Words in the New Testament and his sacramental presence.

The depression lifted and the plague retreated. He wrote his hymn, setting it to his own fine Germanic tune, and sat down to pour out a reply to Zwingli, which became his famous ‘Confession concerning Christ’s Supper’. At the end of it he set out the detailed content of his own Christian faith, including his understanding of many of the central doctrines of Christianity. When it came to the Church, he said:

There is one holy Christian Church on earth, that is the community or number or assembly of all the Christians in all the world, the one bride of Christ, and his spiritual body of which he is the only head. The bishops or priests are not her heads or lords or bridegrooms, but servants, friends . . . stewards.

This Christian Church exists not only in the realm of the Roman Church or Pope, but in all the world,. . . dispersed among Pope, Turks, Persians, Tartars, but spiritually gathered in one gospel and faith, under one head, i.e. Jesus Christ.

Christianity was more than a conventional Myth religion. It was a universal community. Its members could be everywhere.

The Visitation started up again in greater earnest. The Instructions were developed into a formal text for the most part drawn up by Melancthon, but with an Introduction by Luther which harped on the State backing. Luther was aware of the historical significance, referring to Constantine, the Emperor who made Christianity semi-official in AD 330. ‘His Electoral Grace is not bound to teach and rule in spiritual affairs. . . he is bound as temporal sovereign to order things so that strife, rioting and rebellion do not arise among his subjects; even as the Emperor Constantine summoned the bishops to Nicaea since he did not wish to tolerate that dissension which Arius had stirred up.’ The Instruction was strong once again on obedience to secular authority and against ‘those who shout out against the law of the land’. It was beginning to look as if the State was Luther’s only really important ally.

The heart of the Instruction had much in it of the official Catholic norms, but the sacraments were cut to two, there were no references to sacrifice, Indulgences or merit; special devotion and saint days were omitted. With regard to public services there was a good deal of flexibility: ‘Holy days such as Sunday shall be observed and as many others as the respective pastors have been accustomed to observe. . . Some sing Mass in German, some in Latin, either of which is permissible.’ Sometimes there was great detail: ‘At vespers it would be excellent to sing three evening hymns in Latin, not German, on account of the school youth, to accustom them to Latin . . . a lesson in German . . . a German Hymn . . . During the week there should be preaching on Wednesdays and Fridays.’ All sorts of things had to be sorted out: ‘Many pastors quarrel with their people over unnecessary and childish things like pealing of bells . . . Although in some places the custom of ringing the bells against bad weather is retained, undoubtedly the custom had its origin in a good intention, probably of arousing the people to pray to God that he would protect the fruits of the earth.’ And on to items which set a whole future structure for religious observance and organisation: ‘The Pastor [Pfarrherr] shall be superintendent of all the other priests who have their parish or benefice in the region, whether they live in monasteries or foundations of nobles or of others.’ Schools should educate children for a practical future; and education should not be abused as a way to a soft living as a Massing priest.

Luther wrote ten sermons to go with the Large Catechism. Once a quarter on four days in each of two successive weeks, sermons were to be given on the essentials, the Creed, the Sacraments the Lord’s Prayer. Luther preached the first set. He appears in these as a new kind of authority figure. No longer was it a bishop, or a pope, nor indeed ‘The Word’, but the pastor and the father of the family who was obliged to take the lead: ‘Assemble with your families at the designated times. . . Do not allow yourself to be kept away by your work or trade and do not complain that you will suffer loss if for once you interrupt your work for an hour. Remember how much freedom the Gospel has given you, so that now you are not obliged to observe innumerable holy days and can pursue your work. And, besides, how much time do you spend drinking and swilling!’ Heads of families must compel their children and their servants to come; and they were not to say ‘"How can I compel them? I dare not do it." You have been appointed their bishop and pastor. Take heed that you do not neglect your office!’ It was a big development from ten years ago when he was trying to get across to them his idea of the real nature of free salvation in Christ — which needed no running across the frontier to pick up Tetzel’s Indulgences!

Luther and Melancthon and the others occasionally allowed such thoughts to cross their minds as they relaxed over the Wittenberg beer. There was a certain feeling of satisfactory confidence as they ended the Instruction: ‘We have given these instructions to the pastors and explained . . . these most important matters of the Christian life . . . namely repentance, faith and good works.’

Instead of the dialogue of choir and counter choir, Luther’s life was woven through with the comedies and tragedies of domestic life. His desk, as of old, groaned with texts for letters, lectures, sermons, state business — for he was often consulted now, not only by Spalatin but more directly by the Elector. To Jonas still exiled, with the University, he wrote again on 10 December 1527: ‘At this hour, ten o’clock, when I returned home from a lecture, I received your letter. I had read only ten lines of it when at that moment I was told that my Katie was delivered of a little daughter. Glory and praise be to the Father in heaven Amen. The mother in childbed is well but weak. And our little son Johann is also well and happy again; the wife of Augustine Schurf is well too; and finally Margaret von Mochau, against all expectations, escaped death. Instead of these people we have lost five pigs. My own condition is just what it has been, namely, as the Apostle says: "As dead and behold I live". . .Deacon John intends to move out of your house and return to the parsonage. Pomer [Bugenhagen — the Pomeranian] will await his wife’s confinement at my place. The students gradually return. Dr Jerome expects to arrive around Christmas, if the situation with the plague remains the way it is now. May Christ gather us together again at one place. Amen. Even weddings are becoming more frequent. . . In the outlying Fishermen’s quarters nothing has been heard of the plague or of death for almost two months.’ The students trickled back: the University formally returned in April. The full official lecturing programme was resumed and the regular meetings of the Bible translation Committee. They had reached the most difficult part. ‘We are sweating over the work of putting the Prophets into German. God, how much of it there is, and how hard it is to make these Hebrew writers talk German! . . . It is like making a nightingale leave her own sweet song and imitate the monotonous voice of a cuckoo.’ That was in June 1528 to Wenceslas Link, now a Pastor at reformed Nuremberg. Luther loved the semitic language, while Erasmus was scornful of Hebrew and loved only Greek.

5 August 1528 to Nicholas Hausmann: ‘My little Johann thanks you, excellent Nicholas for the rattle. He is very proud of it, and delighted with it. I have decided to write something on the Turkish war [Luther felt strongly that Christendom must be defended], and I hope it will be useful. My baby daughter, little Elizabeth, has died. It is amazing what a sick, almost woman-like heart she has given me, so much has grief for her overwhelmed me. Never before would I have believed that a father’s heart could have such tender feelings for his child. Pray to the Lord for me.’ The little girl, born just after the end of the plague, had been weak from the start.

But the family with its sorrows and happiness was faced with threats, once again, to its very survival in Wittenberg. The fantasy of leaving the town returned. In May 1528, Luther wrote a long letter to ‘The Most Serene, Most Noble Sovereign and Lord, Sir John, Duke in Saxony, Elector . . . landgrave in Thuringia, rnargrave in Meissenberg: to our Most Gracious Lord: Personal. . .’ The heart of the letter was a threat which Luther had felt he and Melancthon must utter, though with the utmost diffidence: ‘Even though we should regret the need to do so, we would be compelled to speak out to testify against your Electoral Grace, our most beloved Lord, by whom to this day we have been graciously fed, protected, and overwhelmed . . . we would have to emigrate . . . for the sake of the Gospel in order to avoid having all this disgrace appear to fall justifiably on the innocent Word of God. What could grieve our hearts more than that we and perhaps many fine people should have to be separated from such a father and prince?’

The dire event which threatened to make Luther take himself, Melancthon and others away from Saxony was nothing less than armed confrontation between the forces, on the one hand of the Elector, Philip of Hesse, and the Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach, defenders of the Reformers, and on the other forces deployed by supporters of the imperial and papal cause, Bishops of Bamberg and Wurzburg and the Archbishop of Mainz, Luther’s old enemy, Cardinal Albrecht, and others. Philip of Hesse had continued his drive to give political unity to the states which were supporting the Reformers, and to enable them to defend themselves against possible imperial military intervention. He had the idea of a pre-emptive strike. There were rumours of an elaborate plot to justify it. He and the Elector consulted Luther about the morality of military action against the Emperor a number of times in 1528, 1529 and 1530, soliciting his support for it. Luther expressed himself as utterly opposed to this on all the numerous occasions he was consulted by the two of them.

There was a possible case in law for saying that the Emperor was ‘only’ one’s feudal superior and in some circumstances might be disowned. But Luther saw him as the real secular authority in German-speaking lands, and felt a strong, somewhat romantic loyalty to the imperial office and its young occupant. Unless the Emperor was shown by due process to have betrayed and abandoned his task and had been unanimously removed from office, then he must be obeyed. To take up arms against him was unthinkable. He refused to countenance war against the Emperor’s supporters, and made it clear that he greatly disliked the alliance based on religious differences. Philip was disappointed. In the summer of 1528, Hesse and Saxony had actually mobilised their forces, but then parleyed with the bishops, and for the moment abandoned the idea of defence by attack.

Immediately after the Diet of Speyer, Philip had drawn up a Church Ordinance intended to enforce reforms on the Church in his territory, and began to take over Church property. However, on asking Luther’s advice, he had been advised in the strongest terms that such things could not be done satisfactorily by legislation alone. There should first be some consensus; legalisation could only succeed with a secure basis in public opinion. In 1528, Philip used Luther’s own less strict Saxon Ordinances. But Luther was not done with Philip, whose military initiatives were deeply resented by the conservative forces. With the encouragement of the Emperor’s brother, Ferdinand (though actually beyond the Emperor’s own wishes not yet known), a Second Diet of Speyer (April 1529) passed a resolution which reversed the decision of the first Diet of Speyer, opposed reforms, and demanded the return of Church property. But this was in turn followed by a further reaction from the militant minority at the Diet, a ‘Protest’ drawn up by the reforming group. Their text, labelled ‘Appeal and Protest’, became the origin of the title ‘Protestant’. Polarisation was continuing. But the Reformers continued to disagree violently among themselves, especially about the reformed Mass and the correct understanding of the words of Jesus at the Last Supper. This was a poor basis on which to build a unified political alliance of reforming states. Philip, therefore, began to badger Luther and Melancthon to come to a general meeting of reformers.

Melancthon at least saw something useful coming out of Landgrave Philip’s usually disastrous initiatives; an Agreed Statement was exactly what his Common Places had been aiming at for the last eight years. Luther disliked and distrusted the idea of a meeting. In any case, he had written his own last word on the matter in his two long treatises in 1526 and 1527. He wrote to the Landgrave: ‘I certainly know that I am unable to give way just as I know that they [other reformers] are wrong. If we should meet and then part from one another in disagreement, then not only Your Sovereign Grace’s expenses and troubles would be lost. . . but our opponents would continue their boasting.’ But the two Philips, Melancthon and Hesse, persevered, and a Colloquy was set up. Luther and Melancthon departed for the Landgrave’s castle in Marburg in September 1529, being joined also by Justus Jonas and Osiander.

4 October 1529. To my kind, dear lord, Katherine Luther, a doctor and preacher in Wittenberg. Grace and peace in Christ. Dear Sir Katie! You should know that our amiable colloquy at Marburg has finished and we are in agreement on almost all points, except that the opposition insists on affirming that there is only simple bread in the Lord’s Supper, and on confessing that Jesus Christ is spiritually present there.

The Landgrave had been astute in organising the meeting, referring only to Oecolampadius and not to Zwingli in his invitations to Luther. At the meeting itself he worked hard at a compromise, on the matter of the nature of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, looking for an agreement to disagree, asking all to consider themselves ‘brothers and members of Christ’, even though there was no agreement on this particular matter. Luther commented to Katie: ‘The Landgrave works hard on this item. But we do not want this Brother-and-member business though we do want peace and goodwill.’

Luther had been partly amused at the whole occasion with its magnificent banquet and politics. Years later, he commented: ‘At Marburg Philip went around like a stable boy, concealing his deep thoughts with small talk as great men do.’ Philip seems to have been successful in keeping the well-fed horse-contestants close to the mark in spite of Luther’s determination to look for an encounter. At the start they had all been paired off in separate groups, Luther being allotted to Oecolampadius, the usually mild though pernickety scholar who had taken to a convent in 1521 in search of peace for his writing, had found it unsatisfactory and had joined Bucer at the von Sickingen castle and, liking it less, went to Basel where he stayed for the rest of his life. But eventually there had to be a plenary session, and then Luther found himself greatly irritated by Zwingli, just as he expected. The latter insisted at times on speaking Greek or Hebrew. This drove Luther to play, disingenuously, the man of common sense. He chalked on the table Hoc est corpus meum, Jerome’s Latin translation of the Greek in the New Testament for ‘This is my Body’, the implication being that there was really nothing to argue about, the meaning was clear. But Luther knew quite well that the Gospel writers wrote in Greek, and were Semites — they did not express their meaning in Latin. Though rejecting, like the other reformers, the definition of the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist as due to ‘transubstantiation’ of the bread and wine into body and blood, Luther insisted on the objective presence of Christ in the food and drink. His opponents spoke of the words ‘body’ and ‘blood’ as being ‘only symbolical’, or of the sacrament as dependent on the faith of the recipient. All the Reformers were of one mind in wanting to abandon the implications of the sometimes hysterical piety of the faithful towards the ‘Blessed Sacrament’, marvelling at a kind of almost horrific miracle in the ‘transubstantiation’ which occurred, as it were automatically, when the correct words and gestures proceeded from a properly ordained priest. But they could not agree on the words to express the true meaning. One product of the meeting was a reconciliation between Luther and his old admirer Bucer, who for a time had been violently opposing Luther in the belief that he believed in some kind of literal ‘localisation’ of Christ’s physical body in the bread, as in a butcher’s shop, to quote their common scathing rejection of the idea.

But fourteen other points were unanimously agreed. Fourteen out of fifteen was a substantial achievement for the Landgrave, especially as it included a long list of central doctrines: the Creator, the Trinity, the Son of God, Jesus, Original Sin, Redemption, Faith, Holy Spirit, Baptism, good works, confession, the State, optional traditions — a formidable list. Luther and Melancthon were rushed by the Elector on to a further meeting at Schwabach, where the Marburg Articles sharpened up by Luther were made the subject of a further declaration and further political alliance, between the Elector and the Hohenzollern Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach. Philip of Hesse failed to persuade the towns of Ulm and Strassburg to join the alliance. But an alliance with Ernestine Saxony, Marburg and Schwabach was a step forward in his plan for a well-based alliance of reformed German states.

News came that the Emperor was on the move from Spain, would go to meet the Pope in Italy and then come to Germany, his first visit since the Diet of Worms. Would he call the General Council which continued to be bruited, or would it be just another Diet? The Emperor had seemed to be reacting more strongly recently. In Spain, on receiving news of the ‘Protest’, he had issued a Mandate demanding its withdrawal, and this he followed up by imprisoning the official Delegation from Nuremberg which had come to present the ‘Appeal and Protest’ formally. It was an action he was perhaps more likely to take in Spain, where due process of law was not held so high as in Germany. But it was a little alarming. Meanwhile, Luther had sad personal news to which he could respond only by letter, because his friends did not like the idea of him moving about the country alone, what with continuing military threats, and the general uncertainties.

‘To my dear Father, Hans Luther, a citizen at Mansfeld in the valley; Grace and Peace in Christ Jesus, our Lord and Saviour. Amen. Dear Father: James, my brother, has written me that you are seriously ill. As the weather is bad now, and as there is danger everywhere, and because of the season, I am worried about you. For even though God has thus far given to and preserved for you a strong tough body, yet your age gives me anxious thoughts . . . I would have liked to come to you personally’ but ‘friends have talked me out of it’. However, he and Katie had a suggestion: ‘It would be a great joy for me, however, if it were possible for you and Mother to be brought here to us; this my Katie, too, desires with tears, and we all join her.’ Meanwhile,

I pray from the bottom of my heart that the Father, who has made you my Father and given you to me, will strengthen you according to his immeasurable kindness. . . Let your heart be courageous . . . we have there, in the life beyond, a true and faithful helper at God’s side, Jesus Christ. . . This cursed life is nothing but a real vale of tears, . . . And there is no respite until someone finally battens us down with a shovel. Then of course it has to stop and let us sleep contentedly in Christ’s peace, until he comes again to wake us with joy. Amen. . . My Katie, Hanschen, Lenchen, Aunt Lena, and all my household send you greetings and pray for you faithfully. Greet my dear mother and all my relatives. God’s grace and strength be and abide with you for ever. Amen. Your loving son, Martin Luther. Wittenberg, 15 February 1530.

The letter was despatched by the hand of Cyriac Kaufmann, a nephew, who was to report back.

The international situation now began once again to dictate Luther’s movements. Nine days after he wrote to his father, the Emperor was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in Bologna by the Pope. 24 February was his thirtieth birthday. Charles V looked back to the great crowning of Charlemagne in 800. But this was to be the last crowning of an Emperor by a Pope. It was a symbol of aspirations based on nostalgia and theory not well adapted to the facts of the situation, but it did serve to increase Charles V’s own personal morale and boost his conviction that he had a duty and a right to preside over both the religious and the political future of northern Europe. An Imperial Diet would be held in Augsburg in the summer, he announced. Urgent matters on the agenda were two well-tried topics; (1) The Defence of Christendom against the Turks, now extremely urgent since Vienna was threatened. (2) The Reforms. On the latter matter, the Emperor apparently took a surprisingly paternal but realistic stance, intending ‘to give a charitable hearing to every man’s opinions, thoughts, and notions, to understand them, to weigh them, to bring and reconcile men to a unity in Christian truth’.

Luther, Melancthon, Jonas and others were bidden to prepare texts and to meet the Elector at Torgau, and to be prepared to accompany him to Augsburg. They set out from Wittenberg, along with a postgraduate student, Veit Dietrich, on 3 April — another springtime journey towards the south-west, which took them quickly on in the Elector’s entourage to Coburg, where they stopped. It was the last city in the southernmost tip of the Elector’s territory. To go safely beyond it they needed safe-conduct passes, and beyond it Luther could only be safe with special precautions. In any case there seemed to be doubt as to when the Emperor was going to set out from Italy.

Luther reported to Nicholas Hausmann, Pastor at Zwickau, on the news at Coburg:

Yesterday a letter and a messenger arrived telling us that the Emperor is still at Mantua and will celebrate Easter there. . .The Papists are trying extremely hard to stop the Diet, since they are afraid something might be decided against them. . .The Pope is angry with the Emperor, since the latter intends to interfere with ecclesiastical matters, and to listen to the parties . . . The Turk has promised, or rather threatened, to return to Germany next year with very great forces, even leading large numbers of Tartars against us.

Then, on 22 April, came a letter from Imperial Headquarters in Mantua that the Emperor expected to be in Augsburg before the end of April. The Elector had therefore immediately to continue his journey, and to make arrangements about Luther. At Coburg was a castle where Luther would be safe. He was to stay there for the duration of the Diet, and be as available as fast messengers could make him, for consultation. The Elector had hoped to take Luther on with them, as far as Nuremberg and lodge him safely inside that town, with its church reforms now well established, and backed by the Town Council. But the latter had not been prepared to condone what would be a direct challenge to Imperial Law. So Luther had to remain in Coburg. The Elector did not want attention to be drawn to Luther’s stay there. It was still dark in the early morning of 24 April when Luther, Cyriac Kaufman and Veit Dietrich moved into the castle. A few hours later, the rest of the Elector’s party along with Melancthon and Jonas set out on the journey to Bavaria, to the imperial city of Augsburg.

For Luther it was the Wartburg all over again, though not nearly so bad. By the afternoon of the first day he was very bored, and still waiting for his baggage and papers — however, he carried a pen and some scrip with him and sat down to write to his close friend, to whom he had said goodbye only a few hours before:

To my dearest brother Master Philip, a faithful and skilled servant of Christ. . . This place is certainly extremely pleasant and most suited for studying except that your absence makes it a sad place. . . I am asking Christ to grant you sound sleep, and to free your heart from worries. . . I am writing this as I have nothing to do . . . Nothing interferes with our solitude. . .we have been given the keys of all the rooms. Twelve night watchmen and two look-out guards with bugles are stationed in different towers. But what am I going on about ? As you see I have nothing else to write. . . .

He sent greetings by name to the rest of the party, and signed off ‘From the Kingdom of the Birds at the third hour, 1530, Martin Luther.’

As at the Wartburg, the birds once again took his fancy. In a further letter to Spalatin he indulged in an Aesopian-type allegory about the jackdaws holding a Diet:

They live under the open sky, so that the sky itself serves them as panelled ceiling, the green trees as a floor of limitless variety, and their walls are the ends of the earth. They also show contempt for the foolish luxury of gold and silk. . . All are equally black, all have dark blue eyes, all make the same music in unison. . . I have not seen nor heard their emperor. . .As far as I could understand from the interpreter of their resolutions, they have unanimously decided to make war throughout this whole year on the barley, raw as well as malted, and then on the summer and winter wheat, and whatever else are the best fruits . . . From the kingdom of the wicked jackdaws, the fifth hour, 1530. Your Martin Luther.

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