Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Luther's & Melanchthon's Duplicity & Sanctioning of Bigamy for King Henry VIII & Philip of Hesse (Part Two)

PART TWO (see Part One)
* * * * *


[ . . . ]

Luther s Embarrassment on the Bigamy becoming Public.

At the commencement of June, 1540, Luther was in great
distress on account of the Hessian bigamy. His embarrassment
and excitement increased as the tidings flew far and
wide, particularly when the Court of Dresden and his own
Elector began to take fright at the scandal, and the danger
of complications arising with the Emperor. On the other
hand, Luther was not unaware of the Landgrave's doubts as
to whether he would stand by his written declaration. Jonas
wrote from Wittenberg on June 10 to George of Anhalt :
" Philip is much upset and Dr. Martin full of thought." 1

On that very day Bruck, the Electoral Chancellor, dis-
cussed the matter with both of them at Wittenberg. He
acquainted them with his sovereign's fears. They had gone
too far, and the publication of the affair had had the most
disastrous results ; a young Princess and Landgravine had
appeared on the scene, which was not at all what the Elector
had expected ; the Court of Dresden was loud in its com-
plaints and spared not even the Elector ; the Dresden

1 " Briefwechsel des Jonas," 1, p. 394. 


people were bringing forward against Luther what he had
taught in favour of polygamy thirteen years before ; the
door had now been opened wide to polygamists.

Not long after Luther wrote, that, were it necessary, he
would know how to " extricate himself." 1 Even before
dropping this curious remark he had shown himself very
anxious to make his position secure. It was with this object
in view, that, after his interview with Briick, probably on
the same day, he proceeded to explain the case to his
sovereign in the lengthy letter 2 in which he appeals to
Confession and its secrecy.

" Before the world and against the laws of the Empire 
it cannot be defended," but " we were desirous of glossing 
it over before God as much as possible with examples, such 
as that of Abraham, etc. All this was done and treated of 
as in Confession, so that we cannot be charged as though 
we had done it willingly and gladly, or with joy and pleasure. 
... I took into consideration the unavoidable necessity 
and weakness, and the danger to his conscience which 
Master Bucer had set forth." 

Luther goes on to complain, that the Landgrave, by allowing
this " matter of Confession " and " advice given in Confession " 
to become to a certain extent public, had caused all this " annoy- 
ance and contumely." He relates in detail what Bucer, when
seeking to obtain the Wittenberg sanction, had recounted con-
cerning his master's immorality, so contrary to the Evangel,
" though he should be one of the mainstays of the party." They
had at first looked askance at the idea, but, on being told that
" he was unable to relinquish it, and, should we not permit it, 
would do it in spite of us, and obtain permission from the 
Emperor or the Pope unless we were beforehand, we humbly 
begged His Serene Highness, if he was really set on it, and, as he 
declared, could not in conscience and before God do otherwise, 
that he would at least keep it secret." This had been promised
them [by Bucer] ; their intention had been to " save his con- 
science as best we might." 

. . . " Even to-day, were such a case to come before me 
again, I should not know how to give any other advice than 
what I then gave, nor would it trouble me should it afterwards 
become known." " I am not ashamed of the testimony even 

1 " Briefwechsel," 13, p. 79. 

2 Ed. by Seidemann, " Lauterbachs Tagebuch," p. 196 ff., with the 
notice, " Written in April or June, 1540." Rockwell gives the date 
more correctly, as, probably, June 10 (pp. 138, 364). 


should it come before the world, though, to be spared trouble, I 
should prefer it to be kept secret so long as possible." Still, no
angel would have induced him to give such advice " had he 
known that the Landgrave had long satisfied and could still 
satisfy his cravings on others, for instance, as I now learn, on 
lady von Essweg." This lady was perhaps a relative of Rudolf
Schenk, Landvogt of Eschwege on the Werra. 1 We may recall,
that the proposal of taking a " concubine " in place of the too
numerous " light women " had been made to Philip by his
sister. 2

Luther goes on to excuse his conduct still further to the
Elector : " Still less would I have advised a public marriage " ;
that the second wife was to become a Princess or Landgravine
a plan at which the whole Empire would take offence had been
kept from him altogether ; " what I expected was, that, since 
he was obliged owing to the weakness of the flesh to follow the 
ordinary course of sin and shame, he would perhaps keep an 
honest girl in some house, and wed her secretly though even 
this would look ill in the sight of the world and thus overcome 
his great trouble of conscience ; he could then ride backwards 
and forwards, as the great lords do frequently enough ; similar 
advice I gave also to certain parish priests under Duke George 
and the bishops, viz. that they should marry their cook secretly." 

Though what he here says may be worthy of credence, yet to
apply the term Confession to what passed between Philip and
Wittenberg is surely to introduce an alien element into the
affair. Yet he does use the word three times in the course of the
letter and seemingly lays great stress on it. The Confession, he
says, covered all that had passed, and, because it " was seemly " 
to " keep matters treated of in Confession private " he and
Melanchthon " preferred not to relate the matter and the counsel 

1 Cp. " Brief wechsel," 13, p. 82, n. 4, the remark of G. Kawerau. 
" The regret felt by Luther was caused by the knowledge that the 
Landgrave had already a concubine of his own and had not been 
satisfying his lusts merely on common prostitutes ; had he known 
this at the time he gave his advice he would certainly have counselled 
the Landgrave to contract a sort of spiritual marriage with this concu- 
bine." Kostlin had seen a difficulty in Luther s later statement, that 
he would not have given his counsel (the advice tendered did not 
specify the lady) had he known that the Landgrave had " long satisfied, 
and could still satisfy, his craving on others," etc. That there is really 
a difficulty involved, at least in Luther's use of the plural " others," 
seems clear unless, indeed, Kawerau would make Luther counsel the 
Landgrave to contract " spiritual marriage " with all these several 
ladies. ; Elsewhere Luther describes as a " harlot " a certain Catharine 
whom Kawerau (ibid.) surmises to have been this same Essweg. By 
her Philip had a daughter named Ursula whom, in 1556, he gave in 
marriage to Glaus Ferber. 

2 " Philipps Brief wechsel," 1, p. 160. The Landgrave to Bucer. 
He was to tell his sister " that she must surely recollect having told 
him that he should keep a concubine instead of having recourse to 
numerous prostitutes ; if she was willing to allow what was contrary 
to God s law, why not allow this, which is a dispensation of God ? " 


given in Confession " to the Elector ; but, since the Landgrave
" had revealed the substance of the Confession and the advice," 
it was easier for him to speak. Hence he would now reveal the
" advice given in Confession ; though I should much have pre- 
ferred to keep it secret, unless -necessity had forced it from me, 
now I am unable to do so." The fact is, however, that the real
Seal of Confession (and of this Luther was quite aware) does not
allow the confessor who has received the Confession to make any
communication or disclosure concerning it ; even should the
penitent make statements concerning other matters which
occurred in the Confession, under no circumstances whatsoever,
however serious these may be, not even in the case of danger to
life and limb, may " necessity " " force out " anything. Although
in this case Luther had not heard a Confession at all, yet he
refers to the Secret of the Confessional with which he was
acquainted from his Catholic days, and his own former exercise of
it : "I have received in Confession many confidences, both in 
Popery and since, and given advice, but were there any question 
of making them public I should be obliged to say no. . . . Such 
matters are no business of the secular courts nor ought they to be 
made public." 

This uncalled-for introduction of Confession was intended
to save him from being obliged to admit his consent
publicly ; it was meant to reassure so weak a theologian as
the Elector, who dreaded the scandal arising from Luther's
advice to commit bigamy, and the discussion of the case
before the Imperial Court of Justice ; possibly he also
hoped it would serve against that other princely theologian,
viz. the Landgrave, and cause him to withdraw his demand
for a public acknowledgment of the sanction given. His
tactics here remind us of Luther's later denial, when he
professed himself ready simply to deny the bigamy and
his share in it because everything had been merely a
matter of Confession.

Even in this first letter dealing with the question, he is
clearly on the look-out for a loophole by which he may
escape from the calamitous business.

The publication of the " testimony " was to be prevented
at all costs. But, as a matter of fact, not only did the
" Seal of Confession " present no obstacle, but even the
common secrecy referred to above (p. 31) was no longer
binding. This had been cancelled by the indiscretion of the
Landgrave. Moreover, apart from this, the natural obligation
of secrecy did not extend to certain extreme cases
which might have been foreseen by both parties and in the


event of which both would recover their freedom. It should
be noted, that Luther hardly made any appeal to this
natural obligation of secrecy, probably because it could not
be turned to account so easily. The Seal of Confession
promised to serve him better in circles so little acquainted
with theology.

In the second letter dealing with the bigamy, dated
June 27, 1540, and addressed to Philip's intimate, Eberhard
von der Thann, Luther speaks with an eye on Hesse. 1
Thann, through Chancellor Briick, had informed him of
what was being said of him there, and had asked what
Luther would advise the Hessian Prince, and whether, in
order to obviate other cases of polygamy in Hesse, it would
be advisable for the authorities to issue an edict against the
universal lawfulness of having several wives. Luther
replied, that he agreed with the Landgrave's intention as
announced by Thann concerning his second marriage, viz.
to wait until the Emperor " should approach His Serene 
Highness on the subject " ; and then to write to the
Emperor : " That he had taken a concubine but that he 
would be perfectly ready to put her away again if other 
Princes and Lords would set a good example." If the
Emperor were compelled " to regard the lady as a 
concubine," " no one else would dare to speak or think 
differently " ; in this wise the real state of things would be
" covered over and kept secret." On the other hand, it
would not be at all advisable to issue any edict, or to speak
of the matter," for then " there would be no end or limit to 
gossip and suspicions." 

" And I for my part am determined [here he comes to his
testimony and the meaning he now put on it] to keep silence 
concerning my part of the confession which I heard from His 
Serene Highness through Bucer, even should I suffer for it, for it 
is better that people should say that Dr. Martin acted foolishly 
in his concession to the Landgrave for even great men have 
acted foolishly and do so, even now, as the saying goes : A wise 
man makes no small mistakes rather than reveal the reasons 
why we secretly consented ; for that would greatly disgrace and 
damage the reputation of the Landgrave, and would also make 
matters worse." To the Elector his sovereign Luther had said
that, even to-day, he " would not be able to give any different 

1 " Luthers Briefe," ed. De Wette, 6, p. 267 f., and, better, in 
Rockwell, p. 165, after the original.

advice " and that he saw no reason to blush for it. Hence it is 
hard to believe that he seriously contemplated admitting that he 
had been guilty of an act of " folly " and had " acted foolishly." 
It will be shown more clearly below what his object was in 
threatening such a repudiation of his advice to the Landgrave. 

In his letter to Thann, Luther decides in favour of the ex- 
pedient suggested by the Hessian theologians, viz. of the amphi- 
bological use of the word concubine ; here it should, however, be 
noted, that this term, if used officially to counteract the common 
report concerning the new marriage, plainly implied a denial of the 
reality of the bigamy. 

But how if the Landgrave were directly confronted in a Court 
of Justice with the question : Have you, or have you not, 
married two wives ? 

Here belongs the third letter of Luther's which we have 
on the subject and which was despatched to Hesse before 
the middle of July. It is addressed to " a Hessian 
Councillor " who has been identified, with some probability, 
as the Hessian Chancellor Johann Feige. 1 

To the addressee, who was acquainted with the whole 
matter and had applied to Luther for his opinion on behalf 
of the Landgrave, the writer defines his own position still 
more clearly ; if people say openly that the Landgrave has 
contracted a second marriage, all one need answer is, that 
this is not true, although it is true that he has contracted a 
secret union ; hence he himself was wont to say, " the 
Landgrave's other marriage is all nonsense." 

The justification of this he finds in the theory of the secrecy of 
confession upon which he insists strongly in this letter. Not 
only is his own share in the matter nil because ostensibly done 
in confession, but the marriage itself is merely a sort of " con- 
fession marriage," a thing concealed and therefore non-existent 
so far as the world is concerned. " A secret affirmative cannot 
become a public affirmative ... a secret yes remains a 
public no and vice versa. . . . On this I take my stand ; 
I say that the Landgrave's second marriage is nil and cannot be 
convincing to anyone. For, as they say, palam, it is not true, 
and although it may be true clam, yet that they may not tell." 

[ . . . ]

1 " Briefe," 6, p. 263 scq. For the address see Rockwell, ibid., p. 166, 
where the date is fixed between July 7 and 15, 1540. 


[ . . . ]

He thereby absolves himself from the consequence apparently 
involved in the step he had taken, viz. the introduction of 
polygamy as a " general right " ; it does not follow that : 
" What you do from necessity, I have a right to do " ; " neces- 
sity knows no law or precedent," hence a man who is driven by 
hunger to steal bread, or who kills in self-defence is not punished, 
yet what thus holds in cases of necessity cannot be taken as a 
law or rule. On the other hand, Luther will not listen to the 
proposal then being made in Hesse, viz. that, in order to counter 
act the bad example, a special edict should be issued declaring 
polygamy unlawful as a general rule, but allowable in an ex-
ceptional case, on the strength " of secret advice given in Con- 
fession " ; on the contrary, it would be far better simply to 
denounce polygamy as unlawful. 

Hence if the Landgrave, so Luther concludes, " will not 
forsake the sweetheart " on whom " he has so set his heart 
that she has become a need to him," and if, moreover, he 
will " keep her out of the way," then " we theologians and 
confessors shall vindicate it before God, as a case of neces- 
sity to be excused by the examples of Genesis. But defend 
it before the world and hire nunc regente? that we cannot 
and shall not do. Short of this the Landgrave may count 
upon our best service." 

[ . . . ]


[ . . . ]

Luther s Private Utterances Regarding the Bigamy. 

The Table-Talk, dating from the height of the hubbub 
caused by the bigamy, affords us a vivid psychological 
picture of Luther. 

Of this Table-Talk we have the detailed and authentic 
notes from the pen of Johann Mathesius, who was present. 
These notes, in their best form, became known only in 1903, 

[ . . . ]


thanks to Kroker's edition, but, for the better understand- 
ing of Luther's personality, his intimate descriptions of 
what was passing in his mind are of inestimable value. 
Conjointly with the principal passage, which probably 
dates from June 18, 1540, other sayings dropped regarding 
the same matter may be considered. 1 

The scene in the main was as follows : The usual guests, 
among them the disciples with their note-books, were assembled 
after the evening meal in Luther's house, grouped around the 
master, who seemed sunk in thought ; Melanchthon, however, 
was missing, for he lay seriously ill at Weimar, overwhelmed by 
anxiety now that his consent to the bigamy was leaking out. 
Whilst yet at table two letters were handed to Luther, the first 
from Briick, the Electoral Chancellor, the second from the 
Elector himself. Both referred to Melanchthon. The Elector 
requested Luther to betake himself as soon as possible to Weimar 
to his friend, who seemed in danger of death, and informed him 
at the same time of the measures threatened by the Landgrave 
in the matter of the second marriage. 

Luther, after glancing at Briick's missive concerning Melanch 
thon, said to the guests : " Philip is pining away for vexation, 
and has fallen into a fever ( tertiana ). But why does the good 
fellow crucify himself so about this business ? All his anxiety 
will do no good. I do wish I were with him ! I know how 
sensitive he is. The scandal pains him beyond measure. I, on 
the other hand, have a thick skin, I am a peasant, a hard Saxon 
when such x are concerned. 2 I expect I shall be summoned to 

Someone thereupon interjected the remark : " Doctor, perhaps 
the Colloquium [which was to be held at Hagenau] will not now 
take place " ; Luther replied : " They will certainly have to 
wait for us. . . ." 

A second messenger now came in with the Elector's letter, 
conveying the expected summons to proceed to Weimar. On 
the reader the news it contained concerning the Landgrave fell 
like the blows of a sledge-hammer. After attentively perusing 
the letter " with an earnest mien," he said : " Philip the Land- 
grave is cracked ; he is now asking the Emperor to let him keep 
both wives." 

[ . . . ]

1 The chief passage will be found in Kroker (Mathesius, " Tisch- 
reden," p. 156 f.) more correctly than in Loesche (Mathesius, " Aufzeich- 
nungen," p. 117 ff.). It is headed " DC Macedonico negotio," because 
in Luther s circle Philip of Hesse was known as the " Macedonian." 
Where no other reference is given our quotations are taken from this 

2 On the sign, see present work, vol. iii., p. 231. 


When Luther re-entered, so the narrator continues, " he was 
as cheerful as could be, and he said to us : It is grand having 
something to do, for then we get ideas ; otherwise we do nothing 
but feed and swill. How our Papists will scream ! But let them 
howl to their own destruction. Our cause is a good one and no 
fault is to be found with our way of life, or rather [he corrects 
himself] with the life of those who take it seriously. If the 
Hessian Landgrave has sinned, then that is sin and a scandal. 
That we have frequently discounselled by good and holy advice ; 
they have seen our innocence and yet refuse to see it. Hence 
they [the Papists] are now forced to look the Hessian " in anum " 3 
(i.e. are witnesses of his shame). But they will be brought to 
destruction by [our] scandals because they refuse to listen to the 
pure doctrine ; for God will not on this account forsake us or 
His Word, or spare them, even though we have our share of sin, 
for He has resolved to overthrow the Papacy. That has been 
decreed by God, as we read in Daniel, where it is foretold of him 
[Antichrist] who is even now at the door : " And none shall, help 
him " (Dan. xi. 45). In former times no power was able to root 
out the Pope ; in our own day no one will be able to help him, 
because Antichrist is revealed. 

. . . " If scandals occur amongst us," he continues, " let us not 
forget that they existed in Christ's own circle. The Pharisees 
were doubtless in glee over our Lord Christ on account of the 
wickedness of Judas. In the same way the Landgrave has 
become a Judas to us. Ah, the new prophet has such followers 
[as Judas, cried the foes of Christ !] What good can come of 
Christ ? But because they refused to open their eyes to the 
miracles, they were forced to see Christum Crucifixum and 
. . . later to see and suffer under Titus. But our sins may 
obtain pardon and be easily remedied ; it is only necessary that 

[ . . . ]

3 On the Marcolfus legend (again to be mentioned on the next page), 
cp. vol. iii., p. 268, n. 4 ; F. H. von der Hagen, " Narrenbuch," Halle, 
1811, p. 256 ff., and Rockwell, pp. 160 and 163, where other instances 
are given of Luther s use of the same figure. 


the Emperor should forbid [the bigamy], or that our Princes 
should intercede [for the Hessian], which they are at liberty to 
do, or that he should repudiate the step he took." 

" David also fell, and surely there were greater scandals under 
Moses in the wilderness. Moses caused his own masters to be 
slain. . . . But God had determined to drive out the heathen, 
hence the scandals amongst the Jews availed not to prevent it. 
Thus, too, our sins are pardonable, but not those of the Papists ; 
for they are contemners of God, crucify Christ and, though they 
know better, defend their blasphemies." 

" What advantage do they expect of it," he goes on to ask in an 
ironical vein ; " they put men to death, but we work for life and 
take many wives." This he said, according to the notes, " with 
a joyful countenance and amidst loud laughter." 1 "God has 
resolved to vex the people, and, when my turn comes, I will give 
them hard words and tell them to look Marcolfus in anum 
since they refuse to look him in the face." He then went on : 
" I don't see why I should trouble myself about the matter. I 
shall commend it to our God. Should the Macedonian [the 
Landgrave] desert us, Christ will stand by us, . . . He 
has surely brought us out of even tighter places. The restitution 
of Wiirtemberg puts this scandal into the shade, and the Sacra- 
mentarians and the revolt [of the Peasants] ; and yet God 
delivered us out of all that." 

[ . . . ]

1 " Ipsi tamen occidunt homines [heretics], nos laboramus pro vita 
et ducimus plures uxores. Hcec Icetissimo vultu dixit, non sine magno 

2 Cp. ibid., p. 139. 


[ . . . ]

In the conversation on June 18, Luther adopts a forcedly light 
view of the matter : " It is only a three-months affair, then the 
whole thing will fizzle out. Would to God Philip would look at 
it in this light instead of grieving so over it ! . . . " ; 

. . . " I overlook much worse things than this," he continues. " If 
anyone says to me : Are you pleased with what has taken place ? 
I reply : No ; oh, would that I could alter it. Since I cannot, I 
am resolved to bear it with equanimity. I commit it all to our 
dear God. Let Him preserve His Church as it now stands in 
order that it may remain in the unity of faith and doctrine and 
the pure confession of the Word ; all I hope for is that it may 
never grow worse ! " 

" On rising from the table he said cheerfully : I will not give 
the devil and the Papists the satisfaction of thinking that I am 
troubled about the matter. God will see to it. To Him we 
commend the whole." 

In thus shifting the responsibility from his own shoulders and 
putting it on God -Whose chosen instrument, even at the most 

[ . . . ]


critical juncture, he would still persuade himself he was he finds 
the most convenient escape from anxiety and difficulty. It has 
all been laid upon us by God : " We must put up with the devil 
and his filth as long as we live." Therefore, forward against the 
Papists, who seek to conceal their " sodomitic vices " behind this 
bigamy ! " We may not and shall not yield. Let them do their 
dirty work and let us lay odds on." 1 . . .

" All I hope for is that it may never grow worse." The de- 
pressing thought implied in these words lingered in the depths of 
his soul in spite of all his forced merriment and bravado. " Alas, 
my God, what have we not to put up with from fanatics and 
scandals ! One follows on the heels of the other ; when this [the 
bigamy] has been adjusted, then it is certain that something else 
will spring up, and many new sects will also arise. . . . But God 
will preserve His Christendom." 2 

[ . . . ]

1 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 153. 

2 Ibid., p. 138. 


[ . . . ]

It is therefore quite correct when Kostlin, in his Biography 
of Luther, points out, speaking of the Table-Talk : " That 
there had been sin and scandal, his words by no means 
deny." 1 Concerning the whole affair Kostlin moreover 
remarks : " Philip's bigamy is the greatest blot on the 
history of the Reformation, and remains a blot in Luther's 
life in spite of everything that can be alleged in explanation 
or excuse." 2 

F. W. Hassencamp, another Protestant, says in his 
" Hessische Kirchengeschichte " : " His statements at that 
time concerning his share in the Landgrave's bigamy prove 
that, mentally, he was on the verge of despair. Low 
pleasantry and vulgarity are mixed up with threats and 
words of prayer." " Nowhere does the great Reformer 
appear so small as here." 3 In the " Historisch-politische 
Blatter," in 1846, K. E. Jarcke wrote of the Table-Talk 
concerning the bigamy : " Rarely has any man, however 
coarse-minded, however blinded by hate and hardened by 
years of combat against his own conscience, expressed him 
self more hideously or with greater vulgarity." 4 

" After so repeatedly describing himself as the prophet 
of the Germans," says A. Hausrath, " he ought not to have 
had the weakness to seek a compromise between morality 
and policy, but, like the preacher robed in camels hair, he 
should have boldly told the Hessian Princelet : It is not 
lawful for you to have her." Hausrath, in 1904, is voicing 
the opinion of many earlier Protestant historians when he 
regrets " that, owing to weariness and pressure from with- 

1 Kostlin-Kawerau,

2, p. 526. 2 Ibid., p. 478. 

3 Thus Hassencamp, vol. i., p. 507, though he was using the earlier 
editions of the Table-Talk, which are somewhat more circumspect. 

4 Vol. xviii., p. 461. 


out," Luther " sanctioned an exception to God's un-
conditional command." " The band of Protestant leaders, 
once so valiant and upright," so he says, " had for once 
been caught sleeping. Evening was approaching and the 
day was drawing in, and the Lord their God had left them." 1 

Luther at the Conference of Eisenach. 
The Landgrave's Indignation. 

An official conference of theologians and Councillors from 
Hesse and the Electorate of Saxony met at Eisenach at the 
instance of Philip on July 15, 1540, in order to deliberate 
on the best means of escaping the legal difficulty and of 
satisfying Philip's demand, that the theologians should 
give him their open support. Luther, too, put in an appear- 
ance and lost no time in entering into the debate with his 
wonted bluster. 

According to one account, on their first arrival, he bitterly 
reproached (" acerbissimis verbis ") 2 the Hessian theo- 
logians. The report of the Landgrave's sister says, that 
his long talk with Philip's Chancellor so affected the latter 
that the " tears streamed down his cheeks," particularly 
when Luther rounded on the Hessian Court officials for 
their too great inclination towards polygamy. 3 Though 
these reports of the effect of his strictures and exhortations 
may be exaggerated, no less than the remark of Jonas, who 
says, that the " Hessians went home from Eisenach with 
long faces," 4 still it is quite likely that Luther made a 
great impression on many by his behaviour, particularly 
by the energy with which he now stood up for the cause of 
monogamy and appealed to the New Testament on its 

Without denying the possibility of an exception in certain 
rare cases, he now insisted very strongly on the general 

The instructions given to the Hessians showed him 
plainly that the Landgrave was determined not to conceal 
his bigamy any longer, or to have it branded as mere con- 
cubinage ; the theologians, so the document declares, would 
surely never have advised him to have recourse to sinful 

1 " Luthers Leben," 2, 1904, p. 403 f. 

2 Gualther, in Rockwell, ibid., p. 186, n. 1.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

concubinage. That he was not married to his second wife 
was a lie, which he would not consent to tell were he to be 
asked point-blank ; his bigamy was really a dispensation 
" permitted by God, admitted by the learned, and consented 
to by his wife." If " hard pressed " he must disclose it. 
To introduce polygamy generally was of course quite a 
different matter, and was not to be thought of. 1 Needless 
to say, Luther was ready enough to back up this last stipu- 
lation, for his own sake as much as for the Landgrave's. 

During the first session of the conference, held in the 
Rathaus at Eisenach, Luther formally and publicly com- 
mitted himself to the expedient at which he had faintly 
hinted even previously. He unreservedly proposed the 
telling of a lie. Should a situation arise where it was 
necessary to reply " yes " or "no," then they must resign 
themselves to a downright " No." " What harm would it 
do," he said on July 15, according to quite trustworthy 
notes, 2 " if a man told a good, lusty lie in a worthy cause 
and for the sake of the Christian Churches ? " Similarly 
he said on July 17 : " To lie in case of necessity, or for 
convenience, or in excuse, such lying would not be against 
God ; He was ready to take such lies on Himself." 3 

The Protestant historian of the Hessian Bigamy says in 
excuse of this : " Luther was faced by the problem whether 
a lie told in case of necessity could be regarded as a sin at 
all " ; he did not have recourse to the " expedient of a 
mental reservation fas he had done when recommending an 
ambiguous reply] " ; he merely absolved " the mendacium 
officiosum [the useful lie] of sinfulness. This done, Luther 
could with a good conscience advise the telling of such a 
lie." 4 

[ . . . ]

1 " Philipps Brief wechsel," 1, p. 369 f. 

2 Ibid., p. 373. Concerning the notes which the editor calls the 
" Protokoll," see N. Paulus in " Hist.-pol. Bl.," 135, 1905, p. 323 f. 

3 Ibid., p. 375. 

4 Rockwell, ibid., p. 179. The Protestant theologian Th. Brieger 
says (" Luther und die Nebenehe," etc., " Preuss. Jahrb.," 135, 1909, 
p. 46) : " As is known, in the summer of 1540, when the matter had 
already been notorious for months, Luther gave the Landgrave the 
advice, that he should give a flat denial of the step he had taken. . . . 
A lie of necessity was not against God ; He was ready to take that 
upon Himself. Just as in our own day men of the highest moral 
character hold similar views concerning certain forms of the lie of 


. . . he gave it to be understood, that, should the Landgrave
say he had committed bigamy as a right to which he was entitled,
and not as a favour, then he, Luther, was quit of all responsibility ;
it was not the confessor's business to give public testimony
concerning what had taken place in Confession. 3 

Practically, however, according to the notes of the 
conference, his advice still was that the Landgrave should 
conceal the bigamy behind the ambiguous declaration that : 
" Margaret is a concubine." Under the influence of the 
hostility to the bigamy shown by the Saxon Courts he 
urged so strongly the Bible arguments against polygamy, 
that the Hessians began to fear his withdrawal from his 
older standpoint. 

The Old-Testament examples, he declared emphatically, could 
neither " exclude nor bind," i.e. could not settle the matter 
either way ; Paul's words could not be overthrown ; in the New 
Testament nothing could be found (in favour of bigamy), " on 
the contrary the New Testament confirmed the original institu-
tion [monogamy] " ; therefore " since both the Divine and the 
secular law were at one, nothing could be done against it ; he 
would not take it upon his conscience." It is true, that, on the 
other side, must be put the statement, that he saw no reason why 

1 " Philipps Brief wechsel," 1, p. 373. 

2 P. 182. Rockwell (p. 181, n. 4) also reminds us that Luther had 
written to the Elector : " In matters of Confession it is seemly that both 
the circumstances and the advice given in Confession " should be kept 
secret. Luther, in " Lauterbachs Tagebuch," p. 196, see p. 37, n. 2. 
The Elector wrote to the Landgrave in a letter dated June 27, 1540 
(quoted by Rockwell, ibid., from the archives), that the marriage could 
not be openly discussed, because, otherwise, " the Seal of Confession 
would be broken in regard to those who had given the dispensation." 
In this he re-echoes Luther. Rockwell, p. 182 (cp. p. 185, n. 3), 
thinks, that Luther was following the " more rigorous " theologians of 
earlier days, who had taught that it was " a mortal sin for the penitent 
to reveal what the priest had told him." This is not the place to rectify 
such misunderstandings. 

3 Cp. Rockwell, ibid., p. 175, with a reference to Luther s statement 
of July 17 : If the Landgrave would not be content with a dispensa- 
tion, " and claimed it as a right, then they were quit of their advice " 
(" Philipps Brief wechsel," 1, p. 375). It is difficult to follow Luther 
through all his attempts to evade the issue. 


the Prince should not take the matter upon his own conscience, 
declare himself convinced, and thus " set their [the theologians ]
consciences free." That he still virtually stood by what 
had happened, is also seen from his plain statement : " Many 
things are right before God in the tribunal of conscience, which, 
to the world, must appear wrong." " In support of this he 
brought forward the example," so the report of the Conference 
proceeds, " of the seduction of a virgin and of an illegitimate 
birth." He also lays stress on the principle that they, the 
theologians, had merely " to dispense according to God's com- 
mand in the tribunal of conscience," but were unable to bear 
witness to it publicly ; . . . 

Again, for his own safety, he makes a request : " Beg 
him [the Prince] most diligently to draw in [to keep it 
secret]," otherwise, so he threatens, he will declare that " Luther 
acted like a fool, and will take the shame on himself "; he would 
" say : I made a mistake and I retract it ; he would retract it 
even at the expense of his own honour ; as for his honour he 
would pray God to restore it." 1 

In a written memorandum which he presented during the 
Conference he makes a similar threat, which, however, as already 
shown in the case of Thann (above, p. 40 f.), it is wrong to take as 
meaning that he really declared he had acted wrongly in the 
advice given to the Landgrave. 

He begs the Landgrave, " again to conceal the matter and 
keep it secret ; for to defend it publicly as right was impossible " ; 
should the Landgrave, however, be determined, by revealing it, 
to " cause annoyance and disgrace to our Confession, Churches 
and Estates," then it was his duty beforehand to consult all 
these as to whether they were willing to take the responsibility, 
since without them the matter could not take place and Luther 
and Melanchthon alone " could do nothing without their 
authority. And rather than assist in publicly defending it, I 
would repudiate my advice and Master Philip's [Melanchthon's], 
were it made public, for it was not a public advice, and is annulled 
by publication. Or, if this is no use, and they insist on calling 
it a counsel and not a Confession, 2 which it really was, then I 
should rather admit that I made a mistake and acted foolishly 
and now crave for pardon ; for the scandal is great and intoler-
able. And my gracious Lord the Landgrave ought not to forget 
that his Serene Highness was lucky enough in being able to take 
the girl secretly with a good conscience, by virtue of our advice 

1 _" Philipps Briefwechsel," 1, p. 373 f. " Anal. Luth.," ed. Kolde, 
p. 356 seq. 

2 " Bichte," not "Bitte," is clearly the true reading here. 


in Confession ; seeing that H.S.H. has no need or cause for 
making the matter public, and can easily keep it secret, which 
would obviate all this great trouble and misfortune. Beyond 
this I shall not go." 1 

These attempts at explanation and subterfuge to which the 
sadly embarrassed authors of the " testimony " had recourse 
were keenly criticised by Feige, the Hessian Chancellor, in the 
sober, legal replies given by him at the Conference. 2 He pointed 
out, that : The Landgrave, his master, could not now " regard 
or admit his marriage to be a mere liaison " ; he would indeed 
keep it secret so far as in him lay, but deny it he could not with 
out prejudice to his own honour ; " since it has become so 
widely known " ; those to whom he had appealed, " as the chiefs 
of our Christian Churches, for a testimony," viz. Luther and his 
theologians, must not now leave him in the lurch, "but bar 
witness, should necessity arise, that he had not acted un- 
christianly in this matter, or against God." Philip, moreover, 
from the very first, had no intention of restricting the matter 
to the private tribunal of conscience ; the request brought by 
Bucer plainly showed, that he " was publicly petitioning the 
tribunal of the Church." The fact is that the instructions given 
to Bucer clearly conveyed the Prince's intention of making 
public the bigamy and the advice by which it was justified. 

Hence, proceeded Feige : Out with it plainly, out with the 
theological grounds which " moved the theologians to grant such 
a dispensation ! " If these grounds were not against God, then 
the Landgrave could take his stand on them before the secular 
law, the Emperor, the Fiscal and the Courts of Justice. Should 
the theologians, however, really wish to " repudiate " their 
advice, nothing would be gained ; the scandal would be just as 
great as if they had " admitted " it ; and further, it would cause 
a split in their own confession, for the Prince would be obliged 
to " disclose the advice." Luther wanted to get out of the hole 
by saying he had acted foolishly ! Did he not see how " detri-
mental this would be to his reputation and teaching " ? He 
should " consider what he had written in his Exposition of 
Genesis twelve years previously, and that this had never been 
called into question by any of his disciples or followers." He 
should remember all that had been done against the Papacy 
through his work, for which the Bible gave far less sanction than 
for the dispensation, and which " nevertheless had been accepted 
and maintained, in opposition to the worldly powers, by an 
appeal to a Christian Council." 

Hence the Landgrave must urgently request, concludes Feige, 
that the theologians would, at least " until the Council," take his 
part and " admit that what he had done had been agreeable to 

The Saxon representatives present at the Conference 

1 " Briefe," 6, p. 272 f., dated July 20, 1540. 

2 Kolde, loc. cit., p. 357-360. 


were, however, ready to follow the course indicated by 
Luther in case of necessity, viz. to tell a downright lie ; 
rather than that the Prince should be forced to vindicate 
openly his position it was better to deny it flatly. They 
declared, without, however, convincing the Conference, 
" that a flat denial was less culpable before God and in 
conscience as could be proved by many examples from 
Scripture than to cause a great scandal and lamentable 
falling away of many good people by a plain and open 
admission and vindication." 1 

Philip of Hesse was not particularly edified by the result 
of the Eisenach Conference. Of all the reports which gradu- 
ally reached him, those which most aroused his resentment
were, first, that Luther should expect him to tell a lie 
and deny the second marriage, and, secondly, his threat to 
withdraw the testimony, as issued in error. 

Luther had, so far, avoided all direct correspondence 
with the Landgrave concerning the disastrous affair. Now, 
however, he was forced to make some statement in reply to 
a not very friendly letter addressed to him by the Prince. 2 

In this Philip, alluding to the invitation to tell a lie, says : 
" I will not lie, for lying has an evil sound and no Apostle 
or even Christian has ever taught it, nay, Christ has for- 
bidden it and said we should keep to yea and nay. That I 
should declare the lady to be a whore, that I refuse to do, 
for your advice does not permit of it. I should surely have 
had no need of your advice to take a whore, neither does it 
do you credit." Yet he declares himself ready to give an 
" obscure reply," i.e. an ambiguous one ; without need he 
would not disclose the marriage. 

Nor does Luther's threat of retracting the advice and of 
saying that he had " acted foolishly " affright him. The 
threat he unceremoniously calls a bit of foolery. "As to 
what you told my Councillors, viz. that, rather than reveal 
my reasons, you would say you had acted foolishly, please 
don't commit such folly on my account, for then I will 
confess the reasons, and, in case of necessity, prove them 
now or later, unless the witnesses die in the meantime." 
" Nothing more dreadful has ever come to my ears than that 

1 Kolde, loc. cit., p. 362 seq. 

2 Dated July 18, 1540, " Philipps Brief wechsel," 1, p. 380 ff. 


it should have occurred to a brave man to retract what 
he had granted by a written dispensation to a troubled 
conscience. If you can answer for it to God, why do you 
fear and shrink from the world ? If the matter is right in 
conscientia before the Almighty, the Eternal and Immortal 
God, what does the accursed, sodomitic, usurious and 
besotted world matter ? " Here he is using the very words 
in which Luther was wont to speak of the world and of the 
contempt with which it should be met. He proceeds with a 
touch of sarcasm : " Would to God that you and your like 
would inveigh against and punish those in whom you see 
such things daily, i.e. adultery, usury and drunkenness 
and who yet are supposed to be members of the Church not 
merely in writings and sermons but with serious considera- 
tions and the ban which the Apostles employed, in order 
that the whole world may not be scandalised. You see these 
things, yet what do you and the others do ? " In thus 
finding fault with the Wittenberg habits, he would appear 
to include the Elector of Saxony, who had a reputation for 
intemperance. He knew that Luther's present attitude 
was in part determined by consideration for his sovereign. 
In his irritation he also has a sly hit at the Wittenberg 
theologians : At Eisenach his love for the " lady " (Margaret) 
had been looked upon askance ; " I confess that I love her, 
but in all honour. . . . But that I should have taken her 
because she pleased me, that is only natural, for I see that 
you holy people also take those that please you. Therefore 
you may well bear with me, a poor sinner." 

Luther replied on July 24, l that he had not deserved that 
the Landgrave should write to him in so angry a tone. The 
latter was wrong in supposing, that he wanted to get his 
neck out of the noose and was not doing all that he could 
to " serve the Prince humbly and faithfully." It was not 
no his own account that he wished to keep his advice 
secret ; " for though all the devils wished the advice to be 
made public, I would give them by God's Grace such an 
answer that they would not find any fault in it." 

It was, so Luther says in this letter, a secret counsel as " all 
the devils " knew, the keeping secret of which he had requested, 
" with all diligence," and which, even at the worst, he would be 

1 " Briefe," ed. De Wette, 6, p. 273 ff. 


the last to bring to light. That he, or the Prince himself, was 
bound to silence by the Seal of Confession, he does not say, 
though this would have been the place to emphasize it. He 
merely states that he knew what, in the case of a troubled 
conscience, " might be remitted out of mercy before God," and 
what was not right apart from this necessity. " I should be 
sorry to see your Serene Highness starting a literary feud with 
me." It was true he could not allow the Prince, who was " of 
the same faith " as himself, " to incur danger and disgrace " ; 
but, should he disclose the counsel, the theologians would not be 
in a position to " get him out of the bother," because, in the eyes 
of the world, " even a hundred Luthers, Philips and others " 
could not change the law ; the secret marriage could never be 
publicly held as valid, though valid in the tribunal of conscience. 
He wished to press the matter before the worldly authorities ; 
but here the Prince's marriage would never be acknowledged ; 
he would only be exposing himself to penalties, and withdrawing 
himself from the " protection and assistance of the Divine 
Judgment " under which he stood so long as he regarded it as a 
marriage merely in conscience. 

In this letter Luther opposes the " making public of the 
advice," which he dreaded, by the most powerful motive at his 
command : The result of the disclosure would be, that " at last 
your Serene Highness would be obliged to put away your sweet- 
heart as a mere whore." He would do better to allow her to be 
now regarded as a " whore, although to us three, i.e. in God's 
sight, she is really a wedded concubine " ; in all this the Prince 
would still have a good conscience, " for the whole affair was due 
to his distress of conscience, as we believe, and, hence, to your 
Serene Highness's conscience, she is no mere prostitute." 

[ . . . ]


. . . He also gives Philip to understand that he will get a taste of the 
real Luther should he not obey him, or should he expose him by 
publishing the " advice," or otherwise in writing. He says : " If 
it comes to writing I shall know how to extricate myself and 
leave your Serene Highness sticking in the mud, but this I shall 
not do unless I can't help it." The Prince's allusion to the 
Emperor's anger which must be avoided, did not affright Luther 
in the least. In his concluding words his conviction of his 
mission and the thought of the anti-Evangelical attitude of the 
Emperor carry him away. " Were this menace to become 
earnest, I should tweak the Emperor's forelock, confront him with 
his practices and read him a good lecture on the texts : Every 
man is a liar and Put not your trust in Princes. Was he not 
indeed a liar and a false man, he who rages against God's 
own truth, " i.e. opposes Luther's Evangel ? 

Faced by such unbounded defiance Philip and his luckless 
bigamy, in spite of the assurance he saw fit to assume, 
seemed indeed in a bad way. One can feel how Luther 
despised the man. In spite of his painful embarrassment, 
he is aware of his advantage. He indeed stood in need of 
the Landgrave's assistance in the matter of the new Church 
system, but the latter was entirely dependent on Luther's 
help in his disastrous affair. 

Hence Philip, in his reply, is more amiable, though he 
really demolishes Luther's objections. This reply he sent the 
day after receiving Luther's letter. 1 

[ . . . ]

1 On July 27, " Philipps Briefwechsel," 1, p. 385 ff. 


[ . . . ]

As to telling a downright lie, that was impossible, because 
the marriage contract was in the hands of his second wife's 
friends, who would at once take him to task. 

. . . He waxes sarcastic about Luther s remark, that the world
would never acknowledge her as his wife, hinting that Luther's 
own wife, and the consorts of the other preachers who had 
formerly been monks or priests, were likewise not regarded 
by the imperial lawyers as lawful wedded wives. He looked 
upon Margaret as his " wife according to God s Word and 
your advice ; such is God's will ; the world may regard our 
wife, yours and the other preachers as it pleases." 

[ . . . ]


[ . . . ]

Melanchthon s Complaints. 

Melanchthon, as was usual with him, adopted a different 
tone from Luther's in the matter. He was very sad, and 
wrote lengthy letters of advice. 

As early as June 15, to ease his mind, he sent one to the 
Elector Johann Frederick, containing numerous arguments 
against polygamy, but leaving open the possibility of secret 
bigamy. 1 Friends informed the Landgrave that anxiety 
about the bigamy was the cause of Melanchthon's serious 
illness. Philip, on the other hand, wrote, that it was the 
Saxon Courts which were worrying him. 2 Owing to his 
weakness he was unable to take part in the negotiations at 
Eisenach. On his return to Wittenberg he declared aloud 

1 Rockwell, loc. cit., p. 190. Cp. p. 61. 

2 Ibid., p. 192, from Philip s letter to Luther, on July 18. 


that he and Luther had been outwitted by the malice of 
Philip of Hesse. The latter's want of secrecy seemed to 
show the treasonable character of the intrigue. To Camer- 
arius he wrote on Aug. 24 : " We are disgraced by a horrid 
business concerning which I must say nothing. I will give 
you the details in due time." 1 On Sep. 1, he admits in a 
letter to Veit Dietrich : " We have been deceived, under a 
semblance of piety, by another Jason, Avho protested con-
scientious motives in seeking our assistance, and who even 
swore that this expedient was essential for him." 2 He thus 
gives his friend a peep into the Wittenberg advice, of which 
he was the draughtsman, and in which he, unlike Luther, 
could see nothing that came under the Seal of Confession. 
The name of the deceitful polygamist Jason he borrows 
from Terence, 011 whom he was then lecturing. Since 
Luther, about the same time, also quotes from Terence when 
speaking at table about Philip's bigamy, we may infer that 
he and Melanchthon had exchanged ideas on the work in 
question (the " Adelphi "). Melanchthon was also fond of 
dubbing the Hessian " Alcibiades " on account of his dissem- 
bling and cunning. 3 

Most remarkable, however, is the assertion he makes in 
his annoyance, viz. that the Landgrave was on the point of 
losing his reason : " This is the beginning of his insanity." 4 

[ . . . ]

Melanchthon became very sensitive to any mention of the 
Hessian bigamy. . . . 

1 Rockwell, loc. cit., p. 193.

2 Ibid., p. 194. 

3 " Alcibiadea natura non Achillea.^ "Corp. ref.," 3, p. 1079. Cp. 
4, p. 116. Rockwell, ibid., p. 194. 

4 " Hcec sunt principia furoris." Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 143. 
Above, p. 45. 

[ . . . ]


[ . . . ]

Brooding over the permission given, the scholar sought 
earnestly for grounds of excuse for the bigamy. " I looked 
well into it beforehand," he writes in 1543, " I also told the 
Doctor [Luther] to weigh well whether he could be mixed up 
in the affair. There are, however, circumstances of which 
the women [their Ducal opponents at Meissen] are not 
aware, and understand not. The man [the Landgrave] has 
many strange ideas on the Deity. He also confided to me 
things which I have told no one but Dr. Martin ; on account 
of all this we have had no small trouble." 2 We must not 
press the contradiction this presents to Melanchthon's other 
statement concerning the Prince's hypocrisy. 

Melanchthon's earlier letter dated Sep. 1, 1540, Camer- 
arius ventured to publish in the collection of his friend's 
letters only with omissions and additions which altered
the meaning. 

Until 1904 this letter, like Melanchthon's other letter on 
Luther s marriage (vol. ii., p. 176), was only known in the 
amended form. W. Rockwell has now published the following 
suppressed passages from the original in the Chigiana at Rome, 
according to the manuscript prepared by Nicholas Mxiller for the 
new edition of Melanchthon s correspondence. Here Melanchthon 
speaks out plainly without being conscious of any " Secret of 
Confession," and sees little objection to the complete publication 
by the Wittenbergers of their advice. " I blame no one in this 
matter except the man who deceived us with a simulated piety 
( simulations pietatis fe/ellit ). Nor did he adhere to our trusty 
counsel [to keep the matter secret]. He swore that the remedy 
was necessary. Therefore, that the universal biblical precept 
[concerning the unity of marriage] : They shall be two in one 

[ . . . ]

2 To the Elector Johann Frederick, March, 1543, see Rockwell 
p. 199 f., from archives. Rockwell quotes the following from a passage 
in which several words have been struck out : "I have always pre- 
ferred that he [...?] should deal with the matter, than that he 
should altogether [ . . .?]." Was the meaning : He preferred that 
Luther should be involved in such an affair rather than that he [the 
Landgrave] should desert their party altogether ? Other utterances 
of Melanchthon's and Luther's, given above, would favour this sense.

flesh might be preserved, we counselled him, secretly, and 
without giving scandal to others, to make use of the remedy in 
case of necessity. I will not be judge of his conscience, for he 
still sticks to his assertion ; but the scandal he might well have 
avoided had he chosen. Either [what follows is in Greek] love 
got the upper hand, or here is the beginning and foretaste of 
that insanity which runs in the family. Luther blamed him 
severely and he thereupon promised to keep silence. But . . . 
[Melanchthon has crossed out the next sentence : As time goes 
on he changes his views] whatever he may do in the matter, we 
are free to publish our decision ( edere sententiam nostram ) ; for 
in it too we vindicated the law. He himself told me, that 
formerly he had thought otherwise, but certain people had con- 
vinced him that the thing was quite indifferent. He has un-learned men about him who have written him long dissertations, 
and who are not a little angry with me because I blamed them 
to their teeth. But in the beginning we were ignorant of their 
prejudices." He goes on to speak of Philip as " depraved by an 
Alcibiadean nature ( Alcibiadea natura perditus )," an expression 
which also fell under the red pencil of the first editor, Camerarius. 1 

[ . . . ]

1 Rockwell, ibid., p. 194. Text of Camerarius in " Corp. ref.," 3, 
p. 1077 seq. 

[ . . . ]


[ . . . ]

Opinions Old and New Regarding the Bigamy. 

As more light began to be thrown on the history of the 
bigamy, Protestant historians, even apart from those already 
mentioned, were not slow in expressing their strong con- 
demnation, as indeed was only to be expected. 

Julius Boehmer, in outspoken language, points to " the 
unfortunate fact " that " Luther, in his old age, became weak, 
nay, flabby in his moral judgments and allowed himself to be 
guided by political and diplomatic considerations, and not by 
truth alone and an uncorruptible conscience."* 

Walter Kohler, in the " Historische Zeitschrift," has thrown a 
strong light on the person and the motives of the Landgrave. 5 
Whilst admitting that Philip may have suffered from remorse 

[ . . . ]

4 " Luthers Werke fur das deutsche Volk," 1907, Introd., p. xvi. 

5 Bd. 94, 1905, p. 385 ff. 


of conscience and depression, he shows how these were " in great 
part due to his physical deterioration, his unrestrained excesses 
having brought on him syphilis in its worst form ; sores broke 
out on his hands and he suffered from trouble with the throat." 
His resolution to commit bigamy also sprang from the same 
source, " not from a sudden realisation of the wickedness of his 
life, but simply from the sense of his physical bankruptcy." 
Besides, as Kohler points out, the Landgrave's intention was 
not at first to marry Margaret, but rather to maintain her as 
a kept woman and so render excesses unnecessary. Philip, how 
ever, was unable to get her as a concubine, owing to the opposition 
of her mother, who demanded for her daughter the rank of 
princess and wife. Hence the idea of a bigamy. 

[ . . . ]

As for the concealment, and the secrecy in which the sanction 
of the bigamy was shrouded, G. Ellinger considers, that the 
decision of Luther and his friends " became absolutely immoral 
only through the concealment enjoined by the reformers." In 
consequence of the matter being made a secret of conscience, 
" the second wife would seem to the world a concubine " ; hence 
not only the first wife, but also the second would suffer degrada- 
tion. The second wife's relatives had given their consent " only 
on the hypothesis of a real marriage " ; this too was what 
Philip intended ; yet Luther wished him to tell the Emperor that 
she was a mere concubine ; the Landgrave, however, refused to 
break the word he had given, and " repudiated Luther's 
suggestion that he should tell a lie." 2 

Another Protestant, the historian Paul Tschackert, has 
recently characterised the Hessian affair as " a dirty story." " It 
is, and must remain," he says, " a shameful blot on the German 
Reformation and the life of our reformers. We do not wish to 
gloss it over, still less to excuse it." 3 

Yet, notably in modern theological literature, some 
Protestants have seemed anxious to palliate the affair. An 
attempt is made to place the Wittenberg advice and Luther s 
subsequent conduct in a more favourable light by empha- 
sising more than heretofore the secrecy of the advice given, 

[ . . . ]

2 " Phil. Melanchthon," pp. 378, 382. 

3 " Die Entstehung der lutherischen und reformierten Kirchen- 
lehre," Gottingen, 1910, p. 271. 


which Luther did not consider himself justified in revealing 
under any circumstances, and the publication of which the 
Landgrave was unjustly demanding. It is also urged, that 
the ecclesiastical influence of the Middle Ages played its 
part in Luther's sanction of the bigamy. One author even 
writes : " the determining factor may have been," that " at 
the critical moment the reformer made way for the priest 
and confessor " ; elsewhere the same author says : " Thus 
the Reformation begins with a mediaeval scene." Another 
Protestant theologian thinks that " the tendency, taken 
over from the Catholic Church," to treat the marriage pro- 
hibitions as aspects of the natural law was really respons- 
ible ; in Luther s evangelical morality " there was a good 
lump of Romish morality, worthless quartz mingled with 
good metal " ; " Catholic scruples " had dimmed Luther s 
judgment in the matter of polygamy ; to us the idea of 
bigamy appears " simply monstrous," " but this is a result 
of age-long habits "; in the 16th century people thought 
" very differently." 

In the face of the detailed quotations from actual sources 
already given in the present chapter, all such opinions not 
merely Luther's own appeal to a " secret of confession," 
invented by himself are seen to be utterly unhistorical. 
Particularly so is the reference to the Catholic Middle Ages. 
It was just the Middle Ages, and the ecclesiastical tradition 
of earlier times, which excited among Luther s contem-
poraries, even those of his own party, such opposition to the 
bigamy wherever news of the same penetrated in any shape 
or form. 1 

In the following we shall quote a few opinions of 
16th-century Protestants not yet mentioned. With 
the historian their unanimous verdict must weigh more 
heavily in the scale than modern theories, which, other 
considerations apart, labour under the disadvantage of 
having been brought forward long after the event and the 
expressions of opinion which accompanied it, to bolster up 
views commonly held to-day. 2 

1 That the death penalty for bigamy also dated from the Middle 
Ages need hardly be pointed out. 

2 For the proofs which follow we may refer to the selection made 
by N. Paulus (" Hist.-pol. Bl.," 147, 1911, p. 503 ff., 561 ff.) in the 
article " Die hessische Doppelehe im Urteile der protest. Zeitge- 


The bigamy was so strongly opposed to public opinion and 
thus presumably to the tradition handed down from the Middle 
Ages, that Nicholas von Amsdorf, Luther's friend, declared the 
step taken by Philip constituted " a mockery and insult to the 
Holy Gospel and a scandal to the whole of Christendom." 1 He 
thought as did Justus Jonas, who exclaimed : " Oh, what a great 
scandal ! " and, " Who is not aghast at so great and calamitous 
a scandal ? " Erasmus Alber, preacher at Marburg, speaks of 
the "awful scandal" (" immane scandalum") which must 
result. 3 In a letter to the Landgrave in which the Hessian 
preacher, Anton Corvinus, fears a " great falling away " on 
account of the affair, he also says, that the world will not " in any 
way " hear of such a marriage being lawful ; his only advice was : 
Your Serene Highness must take the matter to heart and, on 
occasion, have recourse to lying." 4 To tell a deliberate untruth, 
as already explained (pp. 29, 53), appeared to other preachers 
likewise the only possible expedient with which to meet the 
universal reprobation of contemporaries who judged of the 
matter from their " mediaeval " standpoint. 

Justus Menius, the Thuringian preacher, in his work against 
polygamy mentioned above, appealed to the universal, Divine 
"prohibition which forbids and restrains us," a prohibition 
which applied equally to the " great ones " and allowed of no 
dispensation. He also pointed out the demoralising effect of a 
removal of the prohibition in individual cases and the cunning 
of the devil who wished thereby " to brand the beloved Evangel 
with infamy." 5 

Philip had defiled the Church with filth (" fcedissime "), so 
wrote Johann Brenz, the leader of the innovations in Wiirtem- 
berg. After such an example he scarcely dared to raise his eyes 
in the presence of honourable women, seeing what an insult this 
was to them. 6 

Not to show how reprehensible was the deed, but merely to 
demonstrate anew how little ground there was for throwing the 
responsibility on the earlier ages of the Church, we may recall 
that the Elector, Johann Frederick of Saxony, on first learning 
of the project through Bucer, expressed his " horror," and two 
days later informed the Landgrave through Briick, that such a 
thing had been unheard of for ages and the law of the land and 
the tradition of the whole of Christendom were likewise against 

1 Amsdorfs " Bedenken," probably from the latter end of June, 
1540, published by Rockwell, ibid., p. 324. 

2 " Briefwechsel des Jonas," 1, pp. 394, 396. Above, p. 27, n. 1. 
Further details in Paulus, ibid., p. 562. 

3 Jonas, ibid., p. 397. 

4 P. Tschackert, " Briefwechsel des Anton Corvinus," 1900, p. 79. 
Paulus, ibid., p. 563. 

5 G. T. Schmidt, " Justus Menius iiber die Bigamie." (" Zeitschr. f. 
d. hist. Theol.," 38, 1868, p. 445 ff. More from it in Paulus, p. 565. Cp. 
Rockwell, ibid., p. 126.) 

6 Th. Pressel, " Anecdota Brentiana," 1868, p. 210 : " Commacu- 
lavit ecclesiam temeritate sua foedissime." 


it. It is true that he allowed himself to be pacified and sent his 
representative to the wedding, but afterwards he again declared 
with disapproval, that the whole world, and all Christians without 
distinction, would declare the Emperor right should he interfere ; 
he also instructed his minister at the Court of Dresden to deny 
that the Elector or the Wittenberg theologians had had any hand 
in the matter. 1 Other Princes and politicians belonging to the 
new faith left on record strong expressions of their disapproval ; 
for instance : Elector Joachim II of Brandenburg, Duke Ulrich 
of Wiirtemberg, King Christian III of Denmark, the Strasburg 
statesman Jacob Sturm and the Augsburg ambassador David 
Dettigkof er. 2 To the latter the news was frightful tidings 
from which would result great scandal, a hindrance to and a 
falling away from the Holy Evangel." 3 

All there now remains to do is to illustrate, by statements 
made by Protestants in earlier and more recent times, two 
important points connected with the Hessian episode ; viz. 
the unhappy part which politics played in Luther's attitude, 
and what he said on lying. Here, again, during the last ten 
years there has been a movement in Luther's favour amongst 
many Protestant theologians. 

Concerning the part of politics W. Rockwell, the historian 
of the bigamy, openly admits, that : " By his threat of 
seeking protection from the Emperor for his bigamy, Philip 
overcame the unwillingness of the Wittenbergers to grant 
the requested dispensation." 4 "It is clear," he also says, 
" that political pressure was brought to bear on the Witten- 
bergeis by the Landgrave, and that to this pressure they 
yielded." 5 

That consideration for the effect his decision was likely to 
have on the attitude of the Landgrave weighed heavily in 
the balance with Luther in the matter of his " testimony," 
it is scarcely possible to deny, after what we have seen. 
" The Hessian may fall away from us " (above, p. 46), 
such was one of the fears which undoubtedly had something 
to do with his compliance. To inspire such fear was plainly 
the object of Philip s threat, that, should the Wittenbergers 
not prove amenable, he would make advances to the 
Emperor and the Pope, and the repeated allusions made by 
Luther and his friends to their dread of such a step, and of 
his falling away, show how his threat continued to ring in 
their ears. 6 

1 Paulus, ibid., p. 569 f.

2 Ibid., p. 570 ff. 

3 Fr. Roth, " Augsburgs Reformationsgesch.," 3, 1907, p. 56. 

4 Ibid., p. 95.

5 Ibid., p. 154.

6 See above, p. 18, 21 f., 46, 62 n. 2. 


Bucer declared he had himself agreed to the bigamy from fear 
lest Philip should otherwise be lost to the Evangelical cause, 1 and 
his feelings were doubtless shared at Wittenberg. Melanchthon 
speaks not merely of a possible attempt on Philip's part to obtain 
the Emperor's sanction to his marriage, but of an actual threat 
to leave the party in the lurch. 2 Johann Brenz, as soon as news 
reached him in Wiirtemberg of the Landgrave s hint of an 
appeal to the Emperor, saw in it a threat to turn his back on 
the protesting party. 3 All three probably believed that at 
heart the Landgrave would remain true to the new faith, but 
what Luther had chiefly in view was Philip's position as head 
of the Schmalkalden League. 

The result was all the more tragic. The compliance wrung 
from the Wittenbergers failed to protect the party from the 
evil they were so desirous of warding off. Philip's recon- 
ciliation with the Emperor, as already pointed out, was 
very detrimental to the Schmalkalden League, however 
insincere his motives may have been. 

On this point G. Kawerau says : 4 "In the Landgrave's resolution 
to address himself to the Emperor and the Pope, of which 
they were informed, they [Luther and Melanchthon] saw a 
public scandal, a publica offensio, which they sought to 
obviate by demanding absolute secrecy." 5 " But the disastrous 
political consequences did, in the event, make their appearance. 
. . . The zealously promoted alliance with Francois I, to which 
even the Saxon Elector was not averse, came to nothing and 
Denmark and Sweden s overtures had to be repelled. The prime- 
mover in the Schmalkalden League was himself obliged to cripple 
the League. The dreaded champion of the Evangel became the 
tool of the Imperial policy (v. Bezold). From that time forward 
his position lacked precision and his strong initiative was gone." 

G. Ellinger, in his study on Melanchthon, writes : "It can 
scarcely be gainsaid that Luther and Melanchthon allowed them- 
selves in a moment of weakness to be influenced by the weight 
of these considerations." The petition, he explains, had been 

1 Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 475. Cp. Kolde, " Luther," 2, p. 489, and 
" RE. fiir prot. Theol.," 15 3 , p. 310. 

2 " Defectionem etiam minitabatur, si nos consulere ei nollemus." 
To Camerarius, Aug. 24, 1540, " Corp. ref.," 3, p. 1079. Cp. p. 863. 
Above, p. 62. 

3 " Hoc fere tantumdcm cst ac si minatus esset, se ab Evangelio 
defecturum." Pressel, p. 211. 

4 Moller, " Lehrb. der KG.," 3 3 , p. 146 f. 

6 The scandal lay rather elsewhere. According to Kawerau Luther s 
" principal motive was his desire to save the Landgrave s soul by means 
of an expedient, which, though it did not correspond with the perfect 
idea of marriage, was not directly forbidden by God, and in certain 
circumstances had even been permitted. The questionable nature of 
this advice is, however, evident," etc. 


warmly urged upon the Wittenbergers from a political point of 
view by Bucer, the intermediary. " If Bucer showed himself 
favourable to the Landgrave's views this was due to his wish to 
preserve thereby the Evangelical cause from the loss of its most 
doughty champion ; for Philip had told him in confidence, 
that, in the event of the Wittenbergers and the Saxon Electorate 
refusing their consent, he intended to address himself directly 
to the Emperor and the Pope in order to obtain sanction for 
his bigamy." The Landgrave already, in the summer of 1534, 
had entertained the idea of approaching the Emperor, and in 
the spring of 1535 had made proposals to this end. " It can 
hardly be doubted that in Bucer's case political reasons turned 
the scale." Ellinger refers both to the admission made by 
Melanchthon and to the significant warning against the Emperor 
with which the letter of Dispensation closes. 1 

The strongest reprobation of the evil influence exerted over 
Luther by politics comes, however, from Adolf Hausrath. 2 He 
makes it clear, that, at Wittenberg, they were aware that 
Protestantism " would assume quite another aspect were the 
mighty Protestant leader to go over to the Pope or the Emperor ; 
never has " the demoralising character of all politics " been more 
shamefully revealed ; " eternal principles were sacrificed to the 
needs of the moment " ; " Philip had to be retained at any cost." 
Hence came the " great moral defeat " and Luther's " fall." 

This indignant language on the part of the Heidelberg 
historian of the Church has recently been described by a 
learned theologian on the Protestant side as both " offen- 
sive " and uncalled for. Considering Luther's bold char-
acter it is surely very improbable, that an attempt to 
intimidate him would have had any effect except " to 
arouse his spirit of defiance " ; not under the influence of 
mere " opportunism " did he act, but, rather, after having, 
as a confessor, heard " the cry of deep distress " he sought 
to come to " the aid of a suffering conscience." In answer 
to this we must refer the reader to what has gone before, 
where this view, which seems a favourite with some moderns, 
has already sufficiently been dealt with. It need only be 
added, that the learned author says of the bigamy, that " a 
fatal blunder " was made by Luther . . . but only because 
the mediaeval confessor intervened. " The reformer was not 
able in every season and situation to assert the new religious 
principle which we owe to him ; hence we have merely one 
of many instances of failure, though one that may well be 
termed grotesque and is scarcely to be matched." " Nothing 

1 " Phil. Melanchthon," pp. 378, 382. 

2 " Luthers Leben," 2, p. 393 ff. 


did more to hinder the triumphal progress of the Reforma-
tion than the Landgrave's Turkish marriage. As to the 
argument drawn from Luther s boldness and defiance, a 
Protestant has pointed out, that we are not compelled to 
regard any compliance from motives of policy as " abso-
lutely precluded " ; to say that " political expediency 
played no part whatever in Luther's case " is " going a little 
too far." " Did then Luther never allow any room to 
political considerations ? Even, for instance, in the question 
of armed resistance to the Emperor ? 1 

Referring to Luther s notorious utterance on lying, 
G. Ellinger, the Protestant biographer of Melanchthon, says : 
Luther s readiness to deny what had taken place is " one 
of the most unpleasing episodes in his life and bears sad 
testimony to the frailty of human nature." His statements 
at the Eisenach Conference " show how even a great man 
was driven from the path of rectitude by the blending of 
politics with religion. He advised a good, downright lie 
that the world might be saved from a scandal. ... It is 
sad to see a great man thus led astray, though at the same 
time we must remember, that, from the very start, the 
whole transaction had been falsified by the proposal to 
conceal it." 2 

Th. Kolde says in a similar strain, in a work which is 
otherwise decidedly favourable to Luther, " Greater offence 
than that given by the advice itself is given by the 
attitude which the reformers took up towards it at a later 
date." 3 

" The most immoral part of the whole business," so Frederick 
von Bezold says in his " Geschichte der deutschen Reformation," 
" lay in the advice given by the theologians that the world should 
be imposed upon. ... A man [Luther] who once had been 
determined to sacrifice himself and the whole world rather than 
the truth, is now satisfied with a petty justification for his falling 
away from his own principles." 4 And, to conclude with the 
most recent biographer of Luther, Adolf Hausrath thus criticises 
the invitation to tell a " downright lie " : " It is indeed sad to 

1 O. Clemen, " Zeitschr. f. KG.," 30, 1909, p. 389 f. Cp. the views 
of the Protestant historians, K. Wenck, H. Virck and W. Kohler, 
adduced by Paulus (loc. cit., p. 515), who all admit the working of 
political pressure. 

2 " Phil. Melanchthon," pp. 382, 383. 3 Bd., 2, p. 488 f. 
* Page 736. 


see the position into which the ecclesiastical leaders had brought 
themselves, and how, with devilish logic, one false step induced 
them to take another which was yet worse." 1 

This notwithstanding, the following opinion of a defender of 
Luther (1909) has not failed to find supporters in the Protestant 
world : " The number of those who in the reformation-period 
had already outgrown the lax mediaeval view regarding the require 
ments of the love of truth was probably not very great. One 
man, however, towers in this respect above all his contemporaries, 
viz. Luther. He it was who first taught us what truthfulness 
really is. The Catholic Church, which repudiated his teaching, 
knows it not even to this day." " A truthfulness which dis-
regards all else," nay, a " positive horror for all duplicity " is, 
according to this writer, the distinguishing mark of Luther's life. 

1 " Luthers Leben/ 2, p. 403. 

No comments: