Sunday, February 04, 2007

Martin Luther's Humility, Expressed in His Statements About Himself and His Mission


Portrait of Martin Luther by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1543)
Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg





Now available online, along with the other five volumes.

I haven't listed all the primary sources below, as they are to German works, not
generally available to English readers. Anyone wishing to pursue those sources can
see them in the online text itself. Page numbers for the online txt version will
be listed in brackets.

All the words below are Luther's own (translated into English). These are to be considered
excerpts, so I have not included ellipses [. . . ] below, where there is a break in the text.

* * * * *

"Let me be,. . . even in my Last Will, the man I really am, one well known both in heaven and on earth, and not unknown
in hell, standing in sufficient esteem and authority to be
trusted and believed in more than any notary; for God, the
Father of Mercies, has entrusted to me, poor, unworthy, wretched
sinner that I am, the Gospel of His Dear Son and has made and
hitherto kept me faithful and true to it, so that many in the
world have accepted it through me, and consider me a teacher of
the truth in spite of the Pope s ban and the wrath of
Emperors, Kings, Princes, priests and all the devils. . . .
Dr. Martin Luther, God s own notary and the witness of
His Gospel." 1

". . . the Prophet of the Germans, for such is the haughty title
I must henceforth assume." 3

"I am Ecclesiastes by the Grace of God; . . . Evangelist by the
Grace of God." 4

"I must not deny the gifts of Jesus Christ, viz. that,
however small be my acquaintance with Holy Scripture, I
understand it a great deal better than the Pope and all his
people." 5

"One only of my opponents, viz. Latomus, is worth his
salt, he is the scribe who writes best against me. Latomus
alone has really written against Luther, make a note of that!
All the others, like Erasmus, were but frogs. Not one of
them really meant it seriously. Yes indeed all, Erasmus
included, were just croaking frogs." 8


"many say I was the man foretold by the Prophet of Lichtenberg;
for in their opinion I must be he. This was a prophecy of
the devil, who well saw that the kingdom he had founded
on lies must fall. Hence he beheld a monk, though he could
not tell to which Order he belonged." 2

"I have become a great Doctor, this I am justified in
saying; I would not have thought this possible in the days
of my temptations, when Staupitz comforted me with the
assurance, that God would make use of me as His assistant
in mighty things." 4

"St. John Hus was not alone in prophesying of me
that ... 'they will perforce have to listen to the singing
of a swan,' but likewise the prophet at Rome foretold 'the
coming hermit who would lay waste the Papacy.'" 5

"When I was a young monk and lay sick at Erfurt they
said to me: 'Be consoled, good bachelor . . . our God
will still make a great man of you.' This has been fulfilled." 6

"On one occasion when I was consoling a man on the loss
of his son he, too, said to me: 'You will see, Martin, you
will become a great man!' I often call this to mind, for
such words have something of the omen or oracle about
them." 7
"Before my day nothing was known . . .," 5

"Such was then the state of things: No one taught, or
had heard or knew what secular authority was, whence it
came, or what its office and task was, or how it must serve
God. . . . But I wrote so usefully and splendidly concerning
the secular authorities as no teacher has ever done since
Apostolic times, save perhaps St. Augustine; of this I may
boast with a good conscience, relying on the testimony of
the whole world." 6

"Not one of the Fathers ever wrote anything remarkable
or particularly good concerning matrimony. ... In
marriage they saw only evil luxury. . . . They fell into the
ocean of sensuality and evil lusts. But [by my preaching]
God with His Word and by His peculiar Grace has
restored, before the Last Day, matrimony, secular authority
and the preaching office to their rightful position, . . ."

"The Papists know nothing about Holy Scripture, or
what God is ... or what Baptism or the Sacrament." 2

"But thanks to me we now have the Gospel almost as pure
and undefiled as the Apostles had it." 3
"Not for a thousand years has God bestowed such great
gifts on any bishop as He has on me; for it is our duty to
extol God s gifts." 4


"God has appointed me for the whole of the German land,
and I boldly vouch and declare that when you obey me
in this [the founding of Evangelical schools] you are without
a doubt obeying not me but Christ, and that, whoever obeys
me not, despises, not me, but Christ [Luke xx. 16]. For I know
well and am certain of what and whereto I speak and teach." 1

"And now, dear Germans, I have told you enough ; you
have heard your prophet; God grant we may obey His
words." 2


"Our Lord God had to summon Moses six times; me, too,
He has led in the same way. . . . Others who lived before
me attacked the wicked and scandalous life of the Pope;
but I assailed his very doctrine and stormed in upon the
monkery and the Mass, on which two pillars the whole
Papacy rests. I could never have foreseen that these two
pillars would fall, for it was almost like declaring war on
God and all creation." 1

"I picked the first fruits of the knowledge and faith of
Christ, viz. that we are justified by faith in Christ and not
by works." 2

"I am he to whom God first revealed it." 3

"Show me a single passage on justification by faith in
the Decrees, Decretals, Clementines, 'Liber Sextus' or
'Extravagantes,' in any of the Summas, books of Sentences,
monkish sermons, synodal definitions, collegial or monastic
Rules, in any Postils, in any work of Jerome and Gregory,
in any decisions of the Councils, in any disputations of the
theologians, in any lectures of any University, in any Mass
or Vigil of any Church, in any 'Cremoniale Episcoporum,'
in the institutes of any monastery, in any manual of any
confraternity or guild, in any pilgrims book anywhere, in
the pious exercises of any Saint, in any Indulgence, Bull,
anywhere in the Papal Chancery or the Roman Curia or in
the Curia of any bishop. And yet it was there that the
doctrine of faith should have been expressed in all its
fulness." 4

"I have, praise be to God, achieved more reformation by my
Evangel than they probably would have done even by five
Councils. . . . Here comes our Evangel . . . and works wonders,
which they themselves accept and make use of, but which
they could not have secured by any Councils." 5

"I believe I have summoned such a Council and effected
such a reformation as will make the ears of the Papists
tingle and their heart burst with malice. ... In brief: It
is Luther's own Reformation." 6


"I have now become a wonderful monk, who, by God s
grace, has deposed the Roman devil, viz. the Pope; yet
not I, but God through me, His poor, weak instrument;
no emperor or potentate could have done that." 2

". . . the devil is not angry with me without good reason, for I
have rent his kingdom asunder. What not one of the kings
and princes was able to do, that God has effected, through
me, a poor beggar and lonely monk." 3

"Chrysostom was a mere gossip. Jerome, the good Father,
and lauder of nuns, understood precious little of Christianity.
Ambrose has indeed some good sayings. If Peter Lombard
had only happened upon the Bible he would have excelled
all the Fathers." 4

"See what darkness prevailed among the Fathers of the
Church concerning faith! Once the article concerning
justification was obscured it became impossible to stem the
course of error. St. Jerome writes on Matthew, on Galatians
and on Titus, but how paltry it all is! Ambrose wrote six
books on Genesis, but what poor stuff they are! Augustine
never writes powerfully on faith except when assailing the
Pelagians. . . . They left not a single commentary on
Romans and Galatians that is worth anything. Oh, how
great, on the other hand, is our age in purity of doctrine,
and yet, alas, we despise it! The holy Fathers taught
better than they wrote; we, God be praised, write better
than we live. Had Gregory the Great at least refrained
from spoiling what remained ! He broke in with his
pestilent traditions, bound men down to observances
concerning flesh-meat, cowls and Masses, and imposed on
them his filthy, merdiferous law. And in the event this
dreadful state of things grew from day to day worse." 5

"On the other hand, it is plain that I may venture to [336]
boast in God, without arrogance or untruth, that, when it
comes to the writing of books I am not far behind many of
the Fathers." 1

"In short the fault lay in this, that [before I came], even
in the Universities the Bible was not read; when it was
read at all it had to be interpreted in accordance with
Aristotle. What blindness that was!"

"But then my translation of Holy Scripture appeared.
Whereas the Schoolmen never were acquainted with
Scripture, indeed never were at home even in the Catechism, 3
all admit my Bible scholarship."

"Carlstadt said to the Doctors at Wittenberg: My dear
sirs, Dr. Martin is far too learned for us; he read the Bible
ten years ago and now if we read it for ten years, he will
then have read it for twenty; in any case, therefore, we are
lost." 4

"Nevertheless I never should have attained to the great
abundance of Divine gifts, which I am forced to confess
and admit, unless Satan had tried me with temptations ;
without these temptations pride would have cast me into
the abyss of hell." 5

"The Papists are blind to the clear light of truth because
it was revealed by a man. As though Elias, who wrought
such great things against the servants of Baal, was not like
wise a man and a beggar. As though John the Baptist, who
so brilliantly put to flight the Pharisees, was not a man too.
One's being a man does not matter provided one be a man of
God. For heroes are not merely men." 6


"I, Dr. Martin Luther by name, have taken it upon me
to prove for further instruction each and every article in
a well-grounded work. . . . But first I must answer certain
imputations made by some against me. They twit me
with coming forward all alone and seeking to teach every
body. To this I reply that I have never put myself forward
and would have been glad to creep into a corner ; they it is
who dragged me out by force and cunning." 2

"But who knows whether God has not raised me up and
called me to this, and whether they have not cause to fear
that they are condemning God in me? Do we not read in
the Old Testament that God, as a rule, raised up only one
prophet at a time ? Moses was alone when he led the people
out of Egypt; Helias was alone in the time of King Achab;
later on Helisaeus was also alone; Isaias was alone in
Jerusalem, Oseas in Israel, Hieremias in Judea, Ezechiel
in Babylon, and so on." 3

"The dear Saints have always had to preach against and
reprove the great ones, the kings, princes, priests and
scholars." 4

"I do not say that I am a prophet, but I do say that the
Papists have the more reason to fear I am one, the more
they despise me and esteem themselves. God is wonderful
in His works and judgments. ... If I am not a prophet
yet I am certain within myself that the Word of God is
with me and not with them; for I have Scripture on my
side, but they, only their own doctrine." 5

"There were plenty donkeys in the world in Balaam's
time, yet God did not speak through all of them, but only
through Balaam's ass." 6

"They also say that I bring forward new things, and that it
is not to be supposed that [338] all others were in the wrong
for so long. To this reproof the ancient prophets also had to
listen. . . . Christ's teaching was different from what the Jews
had heard for a thousand years. On the strength of this objection
the heathen, too, might well have despised the Apostles, seeing
that their ancestors had believed otherwise for more than
three thousand years." 1

"I say that all Christian truth had perished amongst those who
ought to have been its upholders, viz. the bishops and learned
men. Yet I do not doubt that the truth has survived in some hearts,
even though only in those of babes in the cradle." 2

"I do not reject them [all the Doctors of the Church] . . .
but I refuse to believe them except in so far as they prove
their contentions from that Scripture which has never
erred. . . . Necessity forces us to test every Doctor's
writings by the Bible and to judge and decide upon them.
The standing as well as the number of my foes is to me a
proof that I am in the right." 3

"Were I opposed only by a few insignificant men I
should know that what I wrote and taught was not from
God. . . . Truth has ever caused disturbance, and false
teachers have ever cried Peace, peace."

"They say they don't want to be reformed by such a
beggar. . . . Daniel has arisen in his place and is
determined to perform what the angel Gabriel has pointed
out to him; for the same prophet told us how he would
rise up at the end of the world. That he is now doing." 5


"Christ was not so greatly considered, nor had He ever such
a number of hearers as the Apostles had and we now have;
Christ Himself said to His disciples: You will do greater
works than I, and, truly enough, at the time of the Apostles,
and now amongst us, the Gospel and the Divine Word is
preached much more powerfully and is more widely spread
than at the time of Christ." 2


"Should I be carried to the grave, for instance, as a victim
of the religious war, people will say at the sight of the Popish
rout that will ensue: 'Dr. Martin was escorted to his grave
by a great procession. For he was a great Doctor, above all
bishops, monks and parsons, therefore it was fitting that
they should all follow him into the grave, and furnish a
subject for talk and song.' And to end up, we shall all
make a little pilgrimage together; they, the Papists, to
the bottomless pit to their god of lying and murder, whom
they have served with lies and murders; I to my Lord,
Jesus Christ, Whom I have served in truth and peace; . . .
they to hell in the name of all the devils, I to heaven in
God's name." 4


Biographer Grisar adds a (hopeful) qualification:
Luther's language would be even more puzzling were it
not certain that much that he said was not really meant
seriously. With him rhetoric plays a greater role than is
commonly admitted, and even some of his utterances
regarding his own greatness are clearly flowers of rhetoric
written half in jest.

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