F. V. N. (Franklin Verzelius Newton) Painter.

Luther on education; including a historical introduction, and a translation of the reformer's two most important educational treatises online

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Online LibraryF. V. N. (Franklin Verzelius Newton) PainterLuther on education; including a historical introduction, and a translation of the reformer's two most important educational treatises → online text (page 6 of 16)
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where will you be then?" Sustained by his sublime
faith, Luther calmly replied: "Then, as now, in the
hands of Almighty God."

The two characteristics just considered — honesty
and faith — naturally produce courage. If a man's
conscience is clear and he gives his life to God, he
can not be otherwise than courageous. He may not
court danger, but when it comes in the line of duty,
he will not run away. Luther was among the bravest


of men. The gigantic undertaking to reform the
Church exhibits in itself heroic courage. A miner's
son, a simple priest, a young professor, assumes to in-
struct Christendom and overthrow the power of the
Pope ! A timid man Hke Melanchthon and a prudent
man like Erasmus would have been appalled at the
idea. Luther bravely pursues his purpose — teaches
the truth in the lecture-room, thunders it from the
pulpit, scatters it abroad by thd press. When the
storm comes he does not hide. Summoned to the
imperial Diet at Worms, he was warned that he
would be foully dealt with. Feeling it his duty to go,
he replied: "Though they should kindle a fire that
should rise up to heaven between Wittenberg and
Worms, yet, as I am cited, I would appear there and
step into the mouth of behemoth, confess Christ, and
leave the issue to him." How grandly he bore him-
self before the Diet! The world has seen no sub-
limer spectacle since Paul made Felix tremble, or the
King of the Jews stood before the Roman governor.

But Luther was not perfect — a fact that brings him
nearer to ourselves. We can sympathize with Lessing,
himself a great German, who after narrating an in-
stance of the Reformer's intolerance, said: "I hold
Luther in such reverence that I like to discover some
faults in him. The traces of humanity that I find in


him are to me as precious as the most dazzhng per-
fections." Luther's character was not free from vio-
lence. His zeal for the truth, for the welfare of the
Church, and for the prosperity of Germany, some-
times rendered him terrific; and in his wrath, he
scourged his opponents — the Pope, Henry VHL,
and the "robber peasants" — with a scorpion lash.
Nothing can surpass the fury with which he attacked
the peasant insurgents: "I think there are no more
devils in hell, but all have gone into the peasants.
. .. . Whoever is slain on the side of the magistrates
is a veritable martyr of God, if he fights with a good
conscience. Whoever perishes on the side of the
peasants will burn everlastingly in hell, for he is a
limb of the devil. . . . Such times have come that a
prince can serve heaven better with bloodshed than
others with prayer. . . . Therefore, dear lords, let him
who can thrust, strike, and kill. If meanwhile
you are slain, more blissful death you could not
undergo."* After the issue of the Reformation had
been fully joined, Luther came to look upon the
Papacy as Anti-Christ. His anger is excited at the
mention of the name, and he freely uses harsh and
opprobrious terms. His strong feeling sometimes
leads him to exaggerated statements. Yet his vio-

*Schrift wider die rauberishen Bauern.


lence came less from native asperity than from ardent
zeal. It may generally be regarded as the righteous
indignation of a mighty soul deeply moved. His
furious writing against the peasants originated in a
deep concern for the imperilled social order. He was
conscious of his harshness and violence; and in the
following passage he not only admirably characterizes
his style, but skillfully suggests an apology: "I seek
not to flatter or to deceive you, and I do not deceive
myself when I say that I prefer your writings to my
own. It is not Brentius whom I praise, but the Holy
Ghost who is gentler and easier in you. Your words
flow pure and limpid. My style, rude and unskillful,
vomits forth a deluge, a chaos of words, boisterous
and impetuous as a wrestler contending with a thous-
and successive monsters; and if I may presume to
compare small things with great, methinks there has
been vouchsafed me a portion of the four-fold spirit
of Elijah, rapid as the wind and devouring as fire,
which roots up mountains and dashes rocks to pieces;
and to you, on the contrary, the mild murmur of the
light and refreshing breeze. I feel, however, comfort
from the consideration that one common Father hath
need, in his immense family, of each servant; of the
hard against the hard, the rough against the rough,
to be used as a sharp wedge against hard knots. To


clear the air and fertililize the soil, the rain that falls
and sinks like the dew is not enough — the thunder-
storm is still required."*

There is no other intellectual quality so valuable
as what is called common sense. In its highest form,
it involves great mental vigor, as exhibited in keen
penetration, retentive memory, strong feeling, and
powerful will. It requires not only native symmetry
of the faculties, but also regularity in their operation.
Genius generally implies something abnormal — the
development of a single faculty at the expense of
others. On its strong side it is independent and bril-
liant, but often unsteady and eccentric. It is capable
of high results in a single direction, but unfit to con-
trol a multitude of interests. Luther was not a gen-
ius; but no one since St. Paul has excelled him in
massive intellectual strengh and soundness of judg-
ment. He was distinguished as a student. In the
writings of his mature years there is astounding vigor.
The Reformation brought him innumerable perplex-
ities; scholars, princes, and cities were constantly
seeking his advice; the direction of the whole move-
ment in Germany was largely in his hands: yet he
seldom made a mistake. His mind was not metaphy-
sical, but practical; he had no taste for fine-spun and

*Vorrede iiber Joh. Brentii Auslegung des Propheten Amos.


fruitless theories. At the university, like Lord Bacon
a century later, he acquired a strong dislike for Aris-
totle and the schoolmen. He could not endure their
fallacious subtleties. He was made, not for specula-
tion, but for action; he constantly deals with the con-
crete — not with theories, but with conditions and
facts. His style abounds in particular rather than in
general terms. He possessed in an extraordinary de-
gree the power to get at the heart of a matter — to lay
firm hold upon the essential truth, and to lop off
error. His intellectual range was of the broadest.
He treated upon a vast number of subjects, yet with
such skill and judgment that his works are still a rich
store -house of wisdom. An acquaintance with the
large folios that embody the achievements of his mas-
sive intellect, forces the conviction that Luther was
the greatest of all Germans.

It adds to our conception of Luther's greatness that
all his mental life was not absorbed in oaken sturdi-
ness. He was sensitive to aesthetic pleasures. His
character is like a Swiss landscape, where blooming
valleys and plashing streams soften the rugged grand-
eur of snow-capped heights. He had a close sym-
pathy with nature. At Coburg, where he stayed dur-
ing the weighty proceedings of the Diet at Augsburg,
he observed and playfully described a congress of jays


and crows. When his old servant Lieberger was pre-
paring some bird-snares, the Reformer drew up and
presented to him, in behalf of the thrushes, blackbirds,
finches and jays, a formal protest against his cruelty.
While confined at the Wartburg, he once went out
hunting with some friends, but his sympathy was with
the game. " Notwithstanding the pleasure the spec-
tacle afforded me," he says, "the spiritual application
gave me equal pain. For it represents the devil, who,
with insidious art, through his ungodly servants, hunts
innocent souls to death. ... At my instance we had
preserved alive a little hare, and having enveloped
it in the sleeve of my coat, I had gone away and left
it for a short time ; meanwhile the hounds traced up
the poor animal, bit it through the coat, and killed it.
Thus do the Pope and Satan rave, so that they de-
stroy rescued souls and render all my labors vain."
Watching the swelling buds one April day, Luther
exclaimed : " Praise be to God the Creator, who out
of a dead world makes all alive again. See those
shoots how they bourgeon and swell! Image of the
resurrection of the dead! Winter is death — summer
is the resurrection. Between them lie spring and au-
tumn as the period of uncertainty and change." In
the following passage, what a fine appreciation of
beauty! "If a man could make a single rose, we


should give him an empire; yet roses, and other
flowers no less beautiful, are scattered in profusion
over the world, and no one regards them!" Luther
was fond of music; he was a good singer and skillful
player on the flute. Alone or in the company of
friends he often sought recreation from his severe
labors in the pleasures of vocal and instrumental
music. He set a high value on its elevating influence.
" Music," he said, "is one of the noblest and most de-
lightful gifts of God; Satan is a great enemy to it;
it is a good antidote against temptation and evil
thoughts ; the devil does not stay where it is practiced."
It is a question whether or not Luther was a poet.
A recent writer has said that the Reformer "was
neither a philosopher nor poet." * The truth of this
statement depends upon our conception of the poetic
gift. If we hold with Macaulay that "no person can
be a poet . . . without a certain unsoundness of
mind," we must refuse that distinction to Luther. No
one was ever sounder. Neither does he correspond to
Shakespeare's beautiful description of the poetic char-
acter :

"As imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name."

* Hosmer, History of German Literature.


Luther did not possess the " fine frenzy" that reaches
the highest lyrical achievement. His muse employed
not a soft .^olian harp with its delicate and scarcely
audible harmonies, but a great trumpet that called the
nations to battle. He possessed an epic character —
himself fitted to be an epic hero. He deliberately set
himself to the task of supplying the German people
with "spiritual songs, whereby," as he said, "the
Word of God might be kept alive among the people
by singing." For this task no one was better qualified.
He had a profound experimental knowledge of the
truth, an unrivalled mastery of the German tongue,
and an unerring artistic sense. In all he composed or
remodeled only thirty-seven hymns; but they were
fashioned with such skill that they at once took hold
of the popular heart. They were sung in the congre-
gation, in the school, in the family, and became a
powerful instrumentality for promoting the doctrines
of the Gospel. Coleridge says that "Luther did as
much for the Reformation by his hymns as by his
translation of the Bible," and a Jesuit declares that
"The hymns of Luther have killed more souls than
his books and speeches." Energy of thought and
feeling characterizes his hymns. No morbid sensibility
in the presence of real or fancied ills, but a heroic
faith and courage bent upon battle and victory. Thor


himself could not have written with more overpower-
ing energy.

The domestic life of Luther is very pleasing. The
home he established with his Katie, as he called her,
was almost ideal. He spoke from his experience in
saying that " When marriage is peaceful and agreeable,
it is, next to a knowledge of God and his Word, the
highest favor and blessing." While his wife was affec-
tionate, sensible, and thrifty, he was tender, apprecia-
tive, and magnanimous. Their household was well-
ordered, cheerful, and hospitable. While exercising a
salutary discipline, he was fond of children, and entered
heartily into their sports. "The faith and life of
children," he said, "are the best, for they have nothing
but the Word. To this they cleave with simplicity,
giving God the honor that he is true, being assured
that he will do what he promises. But we old fools
are subject to wretched, infernal doubt, which causes
us first to dispute long about the Word, which the
children receive simply in pure faith without disput-
ing." His letter to his little son, written at Coburg,
shows his deep sympathy with child nature. He was
fond of companionship, and often had his friends with
him at table. The meals were enlivened with music,
humor, and profitable conversation. On such occa-
sions Luther's ability appeared to great advantage, and


his table-talk became famous for its freshness, orig-
nality, and depth. How tenderly human the great
Reformer appears at the death-bed of his little daughter
Magdalena. The strong man bowed his head. " I love
her very dearly," he said, " but, dear God, since it is
thy will to take her hence, I am glad to know that she
will be with thee." Then turning to the bed, " Dear
Magdalena, my daughter, you would like to remain
here with your father, but you also go willingly to
yonder Father?" " Yes, dearest father," the little girl
said, " as God wills it." Then the father said ; " Thou
dear child, the spirit is willing, but the flesh weak."
Turning away he said, "Oh, she is so dear to me! If
the flesh is so strong, what will not the spirit be?"
As Magdalena was breathing her last, the father in
tears fell on his knees, and prayed God to release her.
Thus she died, going to sleep in her father's arms.
When the child lay in her coffin, Luther said, " Lena
darhng, how well it is with thee! Thou wilt rise
again, and shine as a star — yes, as the sun — but the
parting vexes me beyond measure. It is strange to
know that she is certainly at peace, and that it is well
with her, and yet be so sad!'^

The highest eloquence is not a trick of language;
it can not be attained merely by a skillful -marshaling
of words. True eloquence has its basis in energy of


thought and feeling. Luther was gifted, perhaps,
beyond any other man of his time as an effective
speaker. His wide range of knowledge and expe-
rience rendered him exhaustless in ideas, while his
intense fervor and depth of emotion sent forth his
thoughts with tremendous force. His appearance was
imposing, and his voice clear and sonorous. He was
thoroughly natural; his diction was adapted to the
thought ; and when he spoke, he poured all the energy
of his nature through a facile medium into the minds
of his hearers. He was the greatest preacher of his
age. The glowing tribute of Melanchthon seems
hardly too strong : " One is an interpreter ; another a
logician; and still another an orator, affluent and
beautiful in speech; but Luther is all in all — whatever
he writes, whatever he utters, pierces to the soul, fixes
itself like arrows in the heart — he is a miracle among
men." In the proud independence of an intellectual
and Christian freeman, he was unfettered by the tra-
ditions of the past, and judged all questions for him-
self He cared little for the opinions of the Church
fathers; having tested their teaching by the Word of
God, he had often found them wrong. Yet he was
in the noblest sense conservative. He was not an
iconoclast and fanatic. His work was not destruction,
but reformation; and even under the strongest pro-


vocation and excitement, he did not run into extrava-
gance. His judgment always retained the ascendency;
and though inflexible in his opposition to Romanism,
he did not hesitate to chastise with extreme severity
the dangerous aberrations of Protestant fanatics. In
the presence of the Zwickau prophets, Melanchthon
wavered; but Luther stood firm as a rock, unmasking
and condemning their deluded or hypocritical preten-
sions. He could not be turned aside from the truth.
He was the only man of the sixteenth century that had
the wisdom and strength to lead the battle of the
Reformation. Everywhere on the extended field his
vigilant eye observed the complex movements of the
opposing forces, and his brain directed and his voice
cheered the great Protestant army of Germany.
Alexander, Caesar, and Napoleon are the world's ablest
martial chieftains ; yet their work was safety and
simplicity itself compared with that of Luther — the
thinker, the orator, the leader of the Reformation.

As in almost everything else, Luther was great in
industry. His writings fill twenty-four folio volumes.
With his life filled with practical duties, it is almost
incomprehensible how he could accomplish so much
with his pen. The secret lies in his indefatigable in-
dustry, that allowed no moment to escape unimproved.
Here is his apology to his printer for some oversights


in his manuscript: "I am very busily employed — I
preach twice every day, I labor at the Psalter, I am
engaged on postils, I reply to my adversaries, I con-
tend against the bull of excommunication in German
and Latin, and defend myself, not to mention the
letters which I have to write to my friends, and the
conversations that occur at home and elsewhere."
This was written at an early stage of his career; and
as in every busy and useful life, labors and cares in-
creased with his years. He toiled with almost super-
human effort in his translation of the Bible. "Alas!"
he said, "what a great and difficult task it is to make
these Hebrew writers speak German — how reluctant
they are to forsake their Hebrew ways and suit them-
selves to our rude German, just as if you would com-
pel the nightingale to cease from her melodious strains,
and to imitate the monotonous and odious cry of the
cuckoo." Again he said : " I diligently exercised my-
self to employ pure and distinct German ; and it often
happened to us that we were two, three, and four weeks
searching and inquiring for a single word, and after all
sometimes failed to find it. In Job, Melanchthon,
Aurogallus and myself encountered so many difficul-
ties that we sometimes scarcely finished three lines in
four days." After such conscientious and laborious
effort, no wonder that his translation is a marvel of


fidelity and excellence. But we are not to look for this
painstaking care in his own productions. He wrote
from an overflowing fulness of mind and heart ; he
was not forced to seek for ideas, but rather found diffi-
culty in mastering the copious fountain that welled up
in his soul. He spoke from an inner necessity. His
pen dashed furiously across the page; he did not stop
to refine and polish his language as did Melanchthon,
but let his thoughts clothe themselves as best they
could. His style is sometimes diffuse; it is not al-
ways clear; the construction is occasionally confused;
and yet his writings never fail of their mark. A re-
sistless energy of soul vibrates in every paragraph; it
bears down opposition, and forces conviction. The
style is the man. It bends with every changing
emotion; sometimes, when the great soul of the writer
is shaken with a mighty thought or emotion, it thun-
ders and crashes like the storm ; and again, when a
buoyant joy has settled down upon his heart, it gently
plashes like the wavelets of a sun-lit sea.

Such was Martin Luther. The ablest writers of
modern times — historians, philosophers, theologians,
poets — have eulogized his character and work. His
life kindles admiration. No epic hero was ever greater.
A man among men, yet towering above them in un-
approachable grandeur. Holding the destiny of na-


tions in his hand, he was calm and steadfast in God.
Conscious at last of his divine mission, he esteemed
his life as nothing. What power of thought and range
of knowledge! He was inspired with the inspiration
that comes from deep communion with God. His
heart measured up to the full size of his capacious
intellect. After wrestling with the mightiest sov-
ereign of Christendom, and humbling his pride, he
went home to play with his children. Matchless
courage and strength united with childlike simplicity
and tenderness! His life was unselfish consecration
to truth. Look at him as we will, he stands out in
solitary grandeur. In the language of Carlyle, whose
study of the Reformer is admirably sympathetic and
just: "I will call this Luther a true great man; great
in intellect, in courage, affection, and integrity, one of
our most lovable and precious men. Great, not as a
hewn obelisk, but as an Alpine mountain — so simple,
honest, spontaneous, not setting up to be great at all;
there for quite another purpose than being great!
Ah yes, unsubduable granite, piercing far and wide
into the heavens; yet in the clefts of it fountains,
green and beautiful valleys with flowers! A right
spiritual hero and prophet; once more, a true son of
nature and fact, for whom these centuries, and many
that are to come yet, will be thankful to heaven." *

* Carlyle, Heroes and Hero-Worship. Lecture IV.



LUTHER was gifted with great soundness of judg -
ment, and was penetrated by the letter and spirit of -
Scripture. These two facts determine the character of '
his writings, and give them permanent value. In the
existence of the sexes he saw the natural basis of
marriage, and in revelation he found it a divine institu-
tion. The vices of the monks and Romish clergy ex-
hibited the demoralizing effects of the unnatural law
of celibacy. Hence, both by his example and in his
writings, Luther defends what nature and God alike
enjoin. In this he shows himself in advance of the
Roman Catholic Church, which, while making mar-
riage a sacrament, pronounces celibacy better. To
select but a single passage from many, Luther says,
" Next to God's Word, the world has not a more lovely
and endearing treasure on earth than the holy state of
matrimony, which He has Himself instituted, preserv-
ing it, having adorned and blessed it above all sta-
tions, from which not only all emperors, kings, and
saints, but even the eternal Son of God, though in a


supernatural way, are born. Whoever, therefore, hates
the married state, and speaks evil of it, certainly is
of the devil."

Luther had a clear conception of the constitution of
society. He recognized the existence of the family,
the State, and the Church, which he calls "three hier-
archies established of God;" and the fiinctions pertain-
ing to these separate spheres, taken together, consti-
tute the sum of human duty. The basis of both the
State and the Church is found in the family, in which
the young are to be trained for civil life and the
Kingdom of God. " From the Fourth Command-
ment," Luther says, "it is obvious that God attaches
great importance to obedience to parents. And where
it is not found, there can be neither good morals nor
good government. For where obedience is lacking in
the family, no city or principality or kingdom can be
well governed. Family government is the basis of
all other government; and where the root is bad, the
trunk an^ fruit can not be good.

"P'or what is a city but a collection of houses?
How then can a city be well governed, when there is
no government in the separate houses, and neither
child nor servant is obedient? Likewise, what is a
province but a collection of cities, towns, and villages?
When, therefore, the families are badly controlled.


how can the province be well governed? Verily
there can be nothing but tyranny, witchcraft, mur-
ders, thefts, disobedience. A principality is made up
of districts; a kingdom, of principalities; an empire, of
kingdoms; these are all composed of families. Where
the father and mother rule badly, and let the children
have their own way, there neither city, town, village,
district, principality, kingdom, nor empire, can be well
and peacefully governed."

Luther set great store by the parental relation.
" Oh, what a great, rich, and noble blessing," he ex-
claims, "God confers upon the married state! What
joy does not a man experience in his descendants,
who are numbered from him, even after his death."
Again: "Children are the most lovely fruits and
bonds of marriage, and confirm and preserve the bond
of love." In his "Large Catechism," Luther begins
his exposition of the Fourth Commandment with these
words : " The parental estate God has especially

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Online LibraryF. V. N. (Franklin Verzelius Newton) PainterLuther on education; including a historical introduction, and a translation of the reformer's two most important educational treatises → online text (page 6 of 16)