Martin Luther.

Luther's two catechisms explained by himself, in six classic writings; online

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(Pari Third of Luther s Catechetical Writi7igs, Vol. I )



Copyright, 1908, by PR(DF. J. N. LENKER, D. D.

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To parents and teachers, pastors and
authors, Sunday schools and young peo-
ples' societies, and all Protestants interest-
ed in developing a better system of Chris-
tian instruction, supplementary to that of
the public schools, this volume is in love,
faith and hope prayerfully Dedicated.

Sij? Ham, Jattij mh f rager

^be Xaw, jTaltb anb prater.

The three principal parts of the catechism—the Ten Com-
mandments, the Creed and the Lord's Prayer — held their own
throughout the Middle Ages down to the time of the Reforma-
tion, as the basis of popular education in the Church. And
Luther valued them so highly that he declared these three
parts contained in clear and thorough exposition the substance
of the Scriptures, all essential homiletic material, and the es-
sentials of Christian knowledge. An explanation of them is
found not only in this treatise of 1520, but also in the Small
Catechism issued in 1529, for which these three parts form
the basis. June, 1516, to Lent, 1517, Luther preached on the
Ten Commandments, and during Lent of 1517, he explained
the Lord's Prayer.

German Text: Wittenberg edition, 6, 104; Jena, 1, 244:
Altenburg, 1, 395; Leipzig, 22, 29; Erlangen, 22, 3; Walch, 10,
182; St. Louis Walch, 10, 148; Kaiser edition, 7, 194.

Grace and peace to all my dear friends and brethren in
Christ! Among the many injurious teachings and books
by which Christians are misled and deceived, and through
which a vast amount of unbelief has arisen, I consider not
the least those little prayer books through which a great
burden is foisted upon the simple-minded in the form of the
confession and enumeration of sins, and much unchristian
foolishness in the form of prayers to God and his saints.
Indulgences and red titles are the means of puffing these
works of high-sounding names. One is called "Hortulus
Animae," or "The Little Garden of the Soul" ; another, "Par-
adisus Animae," or "The Soul's Paradise"; and so forth.
Such books stand in need of a most thorough revision, or
perhaps they should be entirely destroyed. And this, I
think, is true likewise of the passional and legendary books,
in which we find many sections contributed by the devil.



But I have not the time for such work of revision, and
it is too much for me alone. I shall be content, then, with
such counsel as is here given until God shall give me time
to do otherwise. I will begin with this simple Christian
explanation, which is to be a mirror to enable us to see
our sin, and to induce us to pray in harmony with the Ten
Commandments and the Lord's Prayer.

I am sure that a Christian has prayed sufficiently when
he has rightly prayed the Lord's Prayer as often as he
feels the need of prayer, the object of the prayer being what
it may. For a good prayer does not consist in many words,
but in the constant and earnest yearning of the soul for the
Lord, as Christ teaches us in the sixth chapter of Matthew.

I herewith beg of everyone to put aside the Brigette
prayers and all those which are embellished with indul-
gences, or promises, and to return to this common, simple
Christian prayer. The more we practice it, the sweeter
and the more delightful it becomes. To this may we be
helped by the author of this prayer, our dear Lord Jesus
Christ, blessed forever. Amen.


Not without God's special design has it been ordained
that the common Christian man who cannot read the Scrip-
tures shall be taught the Ten Commandm.ents, the Creed
and the Lord's Prayer. In these three parts assuredly is
comprehended everything that is found in the Scriptures,
and all necessary material for preaching, as also every-
thing that a Christian should know. And it is so clearly
and amply and withal so concisely and intelligibly set forth
that nobody can object or excuse himself on the ground that
it is too hard to remember what is needful for his salvation.

There are three things which a man must know in order
to be saved:

First, he must know what he is to do and what he is to
avoid. Second, when he realizes that he cannot of his own
power do what is required of him, nor refrain from that
which is forbidden, he must know where he should seek


and find the power necessary. In the third place, he must
know how to seek and find it. The sick man is a case in
point. If he would recover he must first know the nature
of his illness, and also what he may do and what he may not
do. Then he must know where the remedy is to be found
that will enable him to do as a healthy man does. Lastly,
he must desire, seek and secure that remedy. By a similar
process the commandments teach a man to recognize his
malady, so that he realizes and experiences what he can
do and what he cannot do, what he can avoid and what he
cannot avoid, with the result that he recognizes himself as
a sinful and wicked man.

Then, secondly, the Creed offers grace as a remedy and
he is enabled to be godly and keep the commandments.
It reveals God and his mercy, made available and offered
through Christ.

Thirdly, the Lord's Prayer teaches him how to desire
and seek this grace, and shows how to secure it, by means
of regular, humble and comforting prayer. Thus grace shall
be given him and he shall be saved through the fulfilment
of the commandments. These three things virtually com-
prise the entire Scriptures.

Accordingly we begin with the commandments, that they
may teach us to recognize our sin and wickedness. This
is the spiritual malady which prevents us doing, by com-
mission and omission, as we ought.

The First Table of the Law.

The first and principal of Moses' two tables comprises the
first three commandments, in which man is taught his duty
to God both as to what he should do and what he should
avoid. In other words, he is taught how to conduct himself
toward God.

The first commandment teaches the right attitude of
man's inmost heart toward God. Man's thoughts concern-
ing God, his relations to him, and the reverence he should
feel for him, are here set forth. He is taught to look to
him for every blessing as to a father or a good friend; to
show him fidelity, trust and love, with that constant fear


which a child feels for its father, so that he may never be
grieved. Even nature teaches us that there is a God who
bestows every blessing and sends help in every trouble,
which is also confirmed by the idolatry of the heathen.
Accordingly we read: "Thou shalt have no other gods
before me."

The second commandment teaches that man, in his con-
versation before others, and in the attitude of his heart as
well, is to show honor for the name of God. For no one is
able to interpret the divine nature either to himself or to
others except by the names of God. Accordingly we read:
"Thou shalt not take the name of Jehovah thy God in vain."

The third commandment teaches man's duty to God as
expressed in deeds — in the public service of God. We read :
"Thou shalt sanctify the holy day."

These three commandments teach man his obligation to
God in thought, word and deed — in his entire life.
The Second Table of the Law.

The second table of Moses comprises the other seven
commandments, in which is taught what man is obliged
to do and what to avoid in relation to his fellow men and
his neighbors.

The first commandment of the second table tells us how
we are to conduct ourselves with reference to God's rep-
resentatives, namely, those in authority. For this reason
it is joined immediately to those commandments which have
reference to God himself. This commandment refers to
father and mother, spiritual and temporal rulers, and others.
It reads as follows : "Thou shalt honor thy father and tky

The second commandment prescribes man's attitude to-
ward the person of his equal, or to his neighbor. We
should not do him injury, but, as necessity requires, be-
friend and help him. It reads : "Thou shalt not kill."

The third commandment in this group sets forth our re-
lation to that which, after his own person, is the most
precious possession of our neighbor, namely, his spouse,
child or friend. We are not to destroy their honor, but


to safeguard it with all the power at our disposal. This
commandment reads : *'Thou shalt not commit adultery."

The fourth defines our duty to the temporal possessions of
our neighbor. We are not to appropriate them nor to injure
them ; rather to protect them. It reads : "Thou shalt not steal."

The fifth sets forth our relation to our neighbor's good
name and reputation. It should not be marred by us, but
be enhanced, defended and safeguarded. It reads: "Thou
shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor."

We are forbidden, then, to injure any of our neigh-
bor's possessions; and we are enjoined to promote them.
The very law of nature convinces us of the justice and
equity inherent in every one of these commandments. Not
one duty toward God and our neighbor is enjoined here on
the fulfilment of which every man would not insist were
he God, or in the place of God or his neighbor.

The last two commandments set forth the corruption of
our nature; they demand absolute freedom from covetous-
ness and the lusts of the flesh. However, that means war
for us and toil, as long as we live. These commandments
are: "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house. Thou
shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his man-servant,
nor his maid-servant, nor his cattle, nor anything that is
thy neighbor's."

A Brief Conclusion of the Ten Commandments.

Christ himself reduces the Ten Commandments to the
precept: "All things therefore whatsoever ye would that
men should do unto you, even so do ye also unto them ; for
this is the law and the prophets," Mt 7, 12. No one desires
ingratitude in return for his good deeds. No one will per-
mit another to take liberties with his good name. No one
desires to be a victim of another's pride. No one is pleased
with the disobedience, anger or unchastity of his spouse.
No one desires to be deprived of his property; and every-
one objects to being belied, defrauded and slandered. What
everyone does demand, however, on the part of his neighbor
is love, friendship, gratitude, kindness, truth and loyalty.
And that is precisely what the Ten Commandments enjoin.


The First Commandment Transgressors :
He who seeks relief from trouble through sorcery, black
art or through an alliance with the devil ;

He who works charms through magic formulas, as signs,
herbs, spells and incantations; he who handles the divin-
ing-rod, lifts treasure by enchantment, practices crystal-
gazing or the use of the magic cloaks ; also he who deprives
cows of their milk by the use of magic ;

He who orders his work and life according to lucky and
unlucky days, celestial signs and the utterances of fortune-
tellers ;

He who protects and charms himself, his beasts, his house,
his children or any possession whatever against wolves,
weapons, fire, water or injury of any kind by the use of
prayers to which m.agical powers are attributed;

He who ascribes his troubles and adversities to the devil
or to designing men, instead of receiving with love and
praise all evil and all good as coming from God alone, and
then making requital by showing gratitude and readier sub-
mission ;

He who tempts God and rushes unnecessarily into peril
of body or soul;

He who prides himself upon his godliness, wisdom or
other spiritual gifts ;

He who honors God and the saints merely for the sake
of temporal advantage, forgetting the needs of the soul;

He who does not unfalteringly trust in God nor in all his
undertakings put his confidence in divine mercy ;

He whose faith wavers, or who doubts God's mercy ;
He who does not, to the best of his ability, seek to safe-
guard others against unbelief and doubt, or to help them
to attain faith and trust in God's grace.

Every species of unbelief, despair and misbelief belongs
to this category of sins.

The Second Commandment Transgressors:
He who swears unnecessarily or frivolously;


He who takes a false oath or breaks his vow;

He who vows or swears to do something wrong;

He who curses by the name of God;

He who indulges in silly talk concerning God or reck-
lessly perverts the words of Scripture;

He who fails to call upon the name of God in the time of
trouble and to praise him in evil days and in good days,
in adversity and in prosperity;

He who seeks glory, honor and fame through his piety,
wisdom or other endowments ;

He who engages in a false worship of God, as is done
by the heretics and all vain-glorious saints;

He who does not praise the name of the Lord regardless
of what comes to pass ;

He who does not oppose others who abuse and revile
the name of God or use it for evil ends.

The Third Commandment Transgressors:

He who makes the Lord's day an occasion for gluttony,
carousing, gambling, dancing, lounging about or whoring;

He who is given to idleness and he who sleeps when he
should be at divine service ; also he who gads about or gos-
sips instead of attending worship;

He who works or trades without necessity;

He who does not pray and meditate upon the sufferings
of Christ, nor repent of his sin and plead for grace, cele-
brating the day solely by dressing, eating and a formal ob-
servance ;

He who amid his toils and tribulations is not resigned to
the dispensations of Providence;

He who is rather a help than an obstacle to others in
living contrary to this commandment.

Also sluggishness in matters pertaining to God*s service
comes under this head.

The Fourth Commandment Transgressors:

He who is ashamed of his parents because of their pover-
ty, their infirmity or their humble station;

He who does not supply them with the necessary food
and clothing;



Even more grossly disobeys he who curses, strikes,
slanders, hates them or refuses to obey;

He who does not reverence them in his heart as God
commands ;

He who does not honor them even when they act un-
justly or harshly;

He who does not give heed to the commandments of the
Christian Church in reference to fasts, holy days and other
things ;

He who fails to respect, slanders or grieves the office of
the ministry;

He who does not honor, follow and obey his master or
ruler, whether he be good or bad ;

Among such transgressors are found all heretics, rebels,
apostates, fugitives from justice, the obdurate and others.
They transgress it who fail either to promote respect for
it or to oppose its enemies.

All pride and disobedience are condemned here.

The Fifth Commandment Transgressors:

He who provokes his neighbor to anger ;

He who says "Raca" to his neighbor, which implies all
manner of anger and hatred ;

He who says "Fatue" — "thou fool." To this category be-
long all utterances directed against the neighbor which
imply contumely, profane invective, abuse, slander, the
imputation of evil motives, the sitting in judgment upon
others, ridicule and the like.

He who criticises the sins and infirmities of a neighbor
instead of covering and excusing them;

He who does not forgive an enemy, nor pray for him, be-
friend and help him.

Here are to be mentioned all sins of anger and hatred,
such as murder, war, pillage, arson, strife, contention, envy,
malicious joy at the sufferings of others.

Furthermore, he transgresses this commandment who is
averse to works of mercy, even though this spirit is mani-
fested only against an enemy;


He who sets people by the ears and stirs up trouble;

He who creates discord among people ;

He who does not seek to reconcile those who are es-
tranged ;

He who does not oppose and prevent passion and conten-
tion wherever possible.

The Sixth Commandment Transgressors:

He who ruins a virgin, commits adultery, incest or any
unchaste act;

He who is guilty of the monosexual crime or of any of
the nameless crimes against nature;

He who by impure conversation, songs, stories or pictures
incites and evinces evil lust;

He who arouses his passions and pollutes himself by un-
lawful objects of vision or touch, by thought or suggestion.

He who fails to remove the causes of the evil under con-
sideration: intemperate eating and drinking, sluggishness,
aversion to work, late rising and undue familiarity between
man and woman;

The person who arouses the passions of others by lewd
dress or gestures ;

He who acts as accessory for others by offering the use
of his house or by furnishing shelter, help and opportunity
to commit this sin;

He who does not, in word and deed, safeguard the chastity
of others.

The Seventh Commandment Transgressors:

He who is a thief, a robber, a miser or a usurer ;

He who employs false weights and measures, or mis-
represents his goods;

He who acquires a legacy, and he who levies taxes by un-
righteous methods.

He who withholds from the laborer his hire, and he who
repudiates his debt;

He who refuses to lend a neighbor when he is in need, or
exacts interest from such a one;

He who is guilty of avarice and eager for wealth ; he who


refuses to surrender the property of others, or receives stolen
goods ;

He who does not seek to avert injury from others;

He who does not warn others against injury;

He who deprives his neighbor of his legitimate profit ;

He who looks upon his neighbor's success with envy.
The Eighth Commandment Transgressors:

He who conceals and suppresses the truth before a tri-
bunal of justice ;

He who compasses another man's injury by falsehood and

Here belong the vicious flatterers, tale-bearers and the
double-faced ;

Also those who search the righteous life, deeds and words
of a neighbor for occasion to misrepresent and slander him ;

He who gives ear to evil tongues and encourages rather
than opposes them;

He who does not employ his tongue to protect the good
name of his neighbor;

He who does not rebuke the slanderer;

He who does not make it his rule to speak well of every-
body and to conceal what is evil ;

He who fails to champion the truth but suppresses it.
The Last Two Commandments
are not an element of confession, but the aim and ideal we
are to reach, and toward which we are to strive by the help
and power of God. For concupiscence will not be entirely
dead until the flesh has been ground to dust and a new
creation experienced.

The five senses receive attention in the fifth and the sixth

The works of mercy, of which we distinguish six kinds,
are found in the fifth and the seventh commandments.

Of the seven mortal sins, pride is treated in the first and
the second; unchastity in the sixth; anger and hatred in
the fifth; gluttony in the sixth; laziness in the third and
probably in all the others.

The sin of complicity is condemned in every command-


ment, inasmuch as by directing, advising and abetting
others, every commandment may be violated.

The crying and the nameless sins are comprehended in
the fifth, the sixth and the seventh commandments.

All doings of this character evince grossest love of self,
which seeks its own, takes from God and the neighbor what
is theirs, while its possessions, its nature and its powers
redound neither to the benefit of God nor to that of men-
Augustine may well say, Self-love is the beginning of all sin.

From all this it follows that the commandments enjoin
nothing but love, and all they prohibit is love. Only love
fulfils the commandments, and only love transgresses them.
For this reason Paul says, Love is the fulfilling of every
commandment. With equal truth may it be said that a
wicked love is the cause of every transgression of a com-



Of the First: The fear and love of God joined to the
right faith ; absolute reliance upon God in all undertakings ;
the maintenance of a spirit of perfect resignation whether
what betides is good or ill.

All that the Scriptures teach concerning faith, hope and
the fear of God is here found in rudimentary form.

Of the Second: Praise, honor, blessing and worship of
God's name with absolute abasement of one's own name
and honor, only so God is glorified, who is everything and
from whom everything comes.

All that the Scriptures teach concerning God's glory and
honor, concerning the gratitude which is his due, concerning
the name of God and our joy in the Scriptures, pertains to
this commandment.

Of the Third: Turning to God and seeking his grace,
which is done by prayer, attention to the Sacrament and
the Gospel, and meditation upon the passion of Christ.
Thus a spiritual preparation for the Sacrament becomes pos-
sible ; for this commandment requires a soul that is poor in


spirit and brings its poverty before God as its sacrifice.
Thus he becomes its God, and his works and name take
shape in the soul, as the first two commandments direct.

The requirements of this commandment embrace the
whole of our duty in regard to the service of God, the
preaching of the Word, good works and the relative im-
portance of soul and body, so that all our works may be
God's and not our own.

Of the Fourth: Cheerful obedience, humility, submis-
sion to all authority for the sake of God without gainsaying,
murmuring and complaint, as the apostle Peter teaches.

All that is taught in reference to patience, meekness, sub-
missiveness and reverence, pertains to this commandment.

Of the Fifth: Patience, meekness, kindness, love of
peace, and always and everywhere a sweet and gracious
heart which is free from hatred, passion and bitterness
against any person whatever, not even enemies excepted.

All that is taught concerning patience, meekness, peace
and concord pertains to this commandment.

Of the Sixth: Chastity, self-restraint, the manifestation
of modesty in works and words, in thoughts and features,
moderation in eating, drinking, in sleep and everything else
that conduces to chastity.

To this commandment pertains all that is taught concern-
ing chastity, fasting, sobriety, temperance, prayerfulness,
vigilance, industry and all things that tend to purity.

Of the Seventh: Poverty of spirit, charity, willingness
to lend and to give, a life free from avarice and greed.

To this commandment pertains all that is taught con-
cerning avarice, unrighteous gain, usury, tricks of trade,
fraud and any act whereby loss is caused to others or their
welfare menaced.

Of the Eighth: A peaceable, benignant tongue which
hurts no one and benefits everyone, which reconciles ad-
versaries, excuses and defends the maligned, in short, a
conversation informed by truth and free from subtilty.

Under this head belongs all that is taught concerning
our duty to speak or to be silent when the honor of God,


the rights, the cause and the salvation of our neighbor are
at stake.

Of the Last Two: These enjoin absolute purity and an
utter contempt for worldly pleasures and possessions. The
perfect fulfilment of their requirements is possible only in
the life to come.

All works performed in obedience to these command-
ments are inspired by love for others, a love which goes
beyond self and embraces God and the neighbor. It does not
seek its own interests, but those of God and the neighbor,
freely offering itself to the service of everybody according
to his need and pleasure.

It is evident, then, that in these commandments com-
prehensive and systematic information is given concerning
all duties connected with man's life. An endeavor to per-
form them would mean to be occupied hour by hour with

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Online LibraryMartin LutherLuther's two catechisms explained by himself, in six classic writings; → online text (page 1 of 17)