Luther's Autobiographical Fragment, 1545.
Martin Luther greets his pious readers.
Long and hard have I resisted those who wished me to publish
my books or rather the disordered products of my sleepless
nights. I had no wish for the works of the old writers to be
eclipsed by my novelties or to impede the student from reading
them. What is more, there are now available, by God's grace, very
many systematic writingsand above all Philip's Loci
Communesby which a theologian or a bishop can be given an
abundance of attractive training to become proficient in
preaching sound doctrine. Above all, Holy Writ can now be had in
nearly every living language. My books, on the other hand, were
prompted or rather dictated by the bewildering pressure of
events, and consequently resemble the `primitive and disordered
chaos' so that even I can no longer sort them out with ease.
For these reasons I desired hitherto that all my books should
be buried in perpetual oblivion, to make room for better ones.
But I have been overcome by the shameless and untiring
importunity of others....
My main concern, however, is to beg my pious reader, for the
sake of our Lord Jesus Christ himself, to read my books
judiciouslyor rather with much mercy. He should realise
that I was once a monk, and that when I first took up this cause
I was a most vehement Papist, so intoxicated so drowned!in
papal dogmas that I stood ready beyond all others to kill, if I
could, or at least to consent to and work with the killers, of
every one who depreciated even by a single syllable the obedience
due to the Pope. I was just such a Saul as the many that exist
today.... I was in deadly earnest, as a man who had a dreadful
fear of the Last Day and yet longed from the bottom of his heart
This is why you will find in my earlier writings such a
multitude of grovelling concessions to the Pope, which as time
has proceeded I abominate and repudiate for extreme blasphemy.
You will, then, pious reader, lay this error, or as my critics
falsely describe it, this self-contradictionto the charge
of the time and my inexperience. In those early days I stood
alone; I was fitted neither by experience nor education for
dealing with such momentous subjects: and I call God to witness
that I plunged into these controversies neither by choice nor
conviction, but by chance.
When then, in 1517 Indulgences were being sold in these
districts (or `promulgated', as I preferred to call it) for
filthy lucre, I, who was in those days a preacherwhat is
called a young Doctor of Theologybegan to dissuade and
deter the people from lending their ear to the cries of the
Indulgence-mongers, for there were to hand means of much greater
good; and I conceived that in this I could claim the Pope as my
protector, for I placed strong reliance on his good faith when he
condemned through his decrees in the clearest terms the avarice
of these `quaestors' (as he called the preachers of Indulgences).
I went on to write two letters; one was to Albert, Archbishop
of Mainz (who was actually going halves on the proceeds of the
Indulgences with the Popesomething I did not then know), and the
other to our so-called Ordinary, Jerome the Bishop of
Brandenburg, asking him to repress the impudence and blasphemy of
the `quaestors'. But I was only a poor little brother, and they
despised me. Stung by this I published a list for disputation
and, at the same time in German, a sermon on Indulgences, and a
little later the Resolutions, in which my concern was to shield
the Pope's honour by pressing not for the condemnation of
Indulgences but for preference to be given to works of love.
This was indeed to rend the heavens and consume the world
with fire! Accusation was laid against me to the Pope. I was
cited to appear in Rome. The whole Papacy arose against me and me
alone. All this happened in 1518...
Meanwhile the Germans had wearied of the plunderings,
traffickings and boundless deceits of the rogues from Rome, and
they were awaiting with bated breath the outcome of so great an
issue, which no previous bishop or theologian had dared to touch.
In any case public opinion was blowing in my favour, because
everyone hated the Romish artifices with which they had filled
and exhausted the whole earth.
And so I came to Augsburg, a poor traveller on foot, but
armed with provisions and a letter of commendation from Prince
Frederick to the Senate and to certain men of good-will. I was
there three days before I went on to the cardinal, for those
excellent friends held me back and urged me with all their power
not to approach him without a safe-conduct from the emperor.
Every day, however, the cardinal summoned me through a spokesman
of his, who was a great nuisance with his insistence that if I
would only revoke, all would be well. But my grievance was too
long-standing to permit of an easy way out....
In the following year, 1519, Maximilian died in
February, and by the law of the empire Duke Frederick took his
place. This led to some easing of the stormy situation, and
gradually there arose a contempt for ex-communications and Papal
thunderbolts. For when Eck and Caraccioli brought a Bull from
Rome condemning Luther, and each of the found opportunity to
bring it to the notice of Duke Frederick, who was at Cologne at
the time along with other princes in order to meet the recently
elected Charles, Frederick was most indignant about it and with
great courage and firmness rebuked that rascally Papist, because
along with Eck he had disturbed his own and his brother John's
domains behind his back. He reproved Caraccioli with such majesty
that the two men departed quite crestfallen and ashamed. The
prince was blessed with incredible insight to see through the
stratagems of the Roman Curia and to deal with them as they
deserved. He kept his nose very clean and could smell out more
things from a greater distance than the Romanists could either
hope or fear.
This is why, after that, they did not put him to the test
again. Even on the so-called `Golden Rose', sent him
that very year by Leo X, he put no value but rather ridiculed it;
and so the Romanists were forced to give up in despair their
attempts to deceive so great a prince. The Gospel spread and
prospered under his protection, and was propagated far and wide.
His authority influenced a great number. His supreme wisdom and
keen-sightedness secured him from the suspicion (except among the
ill-disposed) of wishing to nourish and protect heresy or
heretics, and this did the Papacy great harm....
[Y]ou should observe how hard it is to struggle clear of
errors which have been confirmed by the example of the whole
world, and which long habit has turned into second nature. How
true is the proverb, `It is hard to give up what one is used to',
and the other, `Custom is second nature'. How truly Augustine
remarks, `Custom, if it is not resisted, becomes necessity'. I,
who at that time had been reading and teaching the Holy
Scriptures most diligently in private and in public for seven
years, so that I knew them nearly all by heart, and who had by
then acquired the firstfruits of knowledge and faith in
Christthat we become righteous and are saved not by works
but by faith in Christ, and finally, who was already defending in
public the thesis of which I am speaking that the Pope is not the
head of the Church by divine righteven I did not then draw
the conclusion that the Pope must needs be of the devil. For that
which is not from God must necessarily be from the devil.
As I have said, I was so habituated to the example of holy
Church and the title it used, as well as to my own customary
language, that I conceded human right to the Pope, which,
however, unless it rests on divine authority is a lie and from
the devil. For we obey parents and magistrates not because they
prescribe it but because such is the will of God . This is why I
can tolerate with some equanimity those who cling
pertinaciously to the Papacy, especially those who have not read
sacred or even profane writings, when I, who read the Scriptures
for so many years with such diligent care, could cling to it so
But nowadays counsels are taken in vain, and efforts are bent
to no effect. The Lord has awakened and stands ready to judge the
people. Even if they could slay us, they wouldn't get what they
wantindeed they would lose what they have while we live in
safety. Several of them, who have not entirely lost their scent,
are already sufficiently aware of this....
Meanwhile, in that year I had once again turned to the task
of interpreting the Psalms, relying on the fact that I was
in better training for it since I had handled in the schools the
epistles of St. Paul to the Romans and Galatians, and the epistle
to the Hebrews. I had certainly been seized with a wondrous
eagerness to understand Paul in the epistle to the Romans, but
hitherto I had been held upnot by a `lack of heat in my
heart's blood',' but by one word only, in chapter 1: `The
righteousness of God is revealed.' For I hated this word
`righteousness of God', which by the customary use of all the
doctors I had been taught to understand philosophically as what
they call the formal or active righteousness whereby
God is just and punishes unjust sinners.
For my case was this: however irreproachable my life as a
monk, I felt myself in the presence of God to be a sinner with a
most unquiet conscience, nor could I believe him to be appeased
by the satisfaction I could offer. I did not lovenay, I
hated this just God who punishes sinners, and if not with silent
blasphemy, at least with huge murmuring. I was indignant against
God, as if it were really not enough that miserable sinners,
eternally ruined by original sin, should be crushed with every
kind of calamity through the law of the Ten Commandments,
but that God through the Gospel must add sorrow to sorrow, and
even through the Gospel bring his righteousness and wrath to bear
on us. And so I raged with a savage and confounded conscience;
yet I knocked importunely at Paul in this place, with a parched
and burning desire to know what he could mean.
At last, as I meditated day and night, God showed mercy and I
turned my attention to the connection of the words,
namely`The righteousness of God is revealed, as it is
written: the righteous shall live by faith'and there I
began to understand that the righteousness of God is the
righteousness in which a just man lives by the gift of God, in
other words by faith, and that what Paul means is this: the
righteousness of God, revealed in the Gospel, is passive, in
other words that by which the merciful God justifies us through
faith, as it is written, `The righteous shall live by
faith.' At this I felt myself straightway born afresh and to have
entered through the open gates into paradise itself. There and
then the whole face of scripture was changed; I ran through the
scriptures as memory served, and collected the same analogy in
other words, for example opus Dei, that which God works in
us; virtus Dei, that by which God makes us strong; sapientia
Dei, that by which He makes us wise; fortitudo Dei, salus
Dei, gloria Dei.
And now, in the same degree as I had formerly hated the word
`righteousness of God', even so did I begin to love and extol it
as the sweetest word of all. Thus was this place in St. Paul to
me the very gate of paradise........
I have told this story, gentle reader, that you may bear in
mind, if you read my modest writings, that.....I am one of those
who (as Augustine said of himself) have improved as a writer and
teacher, not of those who have suddenly from nothing become
supreme, although they have done no works, undergone no
temptations, had no experience, but with one glance at
scripture exhausted the total spirit of its contents....
Farewell, my reader, in the Lord: pray for the increase of
the Word against Satan. He is strong and he is evil, and at this
time he rages with fury, because he knows that his time is short
and the kingdom of the Pope is in danger. But may God confirm in
us what he has performed, and perfect the work he began in us, to
his glory. Amen.