Martin Luther.

Conversations with Luther : selections from recently published sources of the table talk online

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By Cranach. Original in Milan.


Selections from recently published sources
of the


Translated and edited

PRESERVED 'smith, Ph.D.

Author of "The Life and Letters of Martin Luther," etc., editor of

" Luther's Correspondence and other

contemporary Letters," etc.



Associate Professor of History at Amherst College



Copyright 1915

By preserved SMITH and





Introduction ix

1. Luther's Childhood 1

2. At Erfurt University, 1501-1505, and the

Erfurt Friary, 1505-1508, 1509-1511. . 5

3. The Journey to Rome, December, 1510 . 16

4. Teaching at Wittenberg, 1508-1509, and

1511-46 20

5. The Theses on Indulgences, 1517 .... 24

6. The Interview with Cardinal Cajetan

AT Augsburg, October, 1518 25

7. Luther's Return from Augsburg, 1518. . 29

8. Charles von Miltitz Fails to Arrest the

Heretic, 1519 31

9. The Diet OF Worms, April, 1521 33

10. The Controversy with Carlstadt, 1523 . 38

11. Marriage and Family Life 41

12. How the Table Talk WAS Collected. . . 66

13. Contemporary Politics 70

14. War and Turbulence 88

15. The Peasants 90

16. Schools 96

17. Music 98

18. Astronomy and Astrology 101

19. The Humanists 105

20. Human Reason and the Philosophy of

THE Pagans )14

21. Justification 126

22. Predestination 135




23. The Papacy 138

24. Monks and Monasticism 151

25. The Devil 156

26. The World Prefers Satan to the Gospel. 165

27. God and His Gifts 168

28. The Bible 175

29. Preachers and Preaching 187

30. Wyclif and Huss 197

31. Philip Melanchthon 200

32. Heretics 205

33. Concerning Lies 208

34. Temptations 210

35. Questions 212

36. Miscellaneous 226

Bibliographical Note 252

Index ... : 255




Portrait of Martin Luther Frontispiece

In Luther's House at Wittenburg 20

Luther's Room at the Wartburg 36

Luther and His Wife and Children 42

Catherine Luther 60



If the title " The Fifteen Decisive Battles
of the World " be taken in its full meaning,
to assert a certain philosophy of history,
one might combat it by alleging the decisive
character of fifteen events of a different kind,
for example, " The Fifteen Decisive Love-
Affairs of the World." The second title
has as much plausibility as the first. Did
not Antony lose half a world for Cleopatra's
voluptuous charms.^ Was not the Con-
queror born of the chance meeting of Robert
the Devil and a bare-foot girl? In how far
was the poet Gray right in saying that the
Reformation in England was due to " the
gospel light that dawned in Boleyn's eyes ".'*

Perhaps the cleanest, and surely the most
momentous, of historic love-affairs was that
of Friar Martin and Sister Catharine, who,
convinced that their vows of celibacy were
wrong and void, married each other on June
13, 1525. The act, symbolizing and crown-
ing the whole revolt from Rome, created
an immense sensation throughout Europe.
The rage of the Catholics at " the monk
Priapus and the nun Venus '' was, for the
most part, expressed in language not fit to


be repeated. Henry VIII, from the vantage-
ground of his own superior domestic life,
had the bridal couple put into a scurillous
comedy, and his chancellor, Sir Thomas More,
could not miss the opportunity of mocking
at " Friar Luther and Cate Callate, his nun,
lusking together in lechery." Surely, said
men. Antichrist must now come, — for was
it not prophesied that he should be born of
the union of a monk and a nun.^ Erasmus
expressed the shrewd suspicion that Anti-
christ need not have waited so long to appear,
and affected to take the thing lightly.
Hitherto, said he, we have considered the
Reformation a tragedy, but now, as it ends
in a wedding, we know it to be a comedy.
Even Luther's followers were not all pleased.
Poor, timid Melanchthon shook his head over
it in the most lugubrious way. Truly, as
the bridegroom remarked of his marriage,
** the angels laughed, and the devils wept

Undisturbed by the general storm, the
newly married couple settled down to twenty
years of quiet, domestic happiness. Their
love for each other was of the deepest, best
kind. Luther confessed in letters to friends,
that, when he kissed his wife, he thanked
God " for this best little creature of his/'


During the first year of marriage, " Katie,"
as her husband always called her, would sit by
him at his work, trying to think up questions
to ask.

But soon her leisure was taken up with the
cares of a large house and family. Six
children came to her in time, — Hans, a
good, honest fellow; Elizabeth whose early
death left her father " wonderfully sick at
heart and almost womanish"; Magdalene,
a lovely little girl who died in her fourteenth
year; Martin, a rather sickly boy, for a
time his father's " dearest treasure "; Paul,
the brilliant member of the family; and

After his marriage, as before, Luther con-
tinued to live in the large and handsome
brick building which had once been the
Augustinian cloister. The general exodus
of its inmates, following the Reformer's
proclamation of monastic emancipation, had
left it nearly empty. At first assigned to
him as a temporary residence, it was, in
1532, deeded by the government to him and
his wife jointly. As professor in the uni-
versity the Reformer received a sufficient
salary, about the equivalent, in purchasing
power, to that now paid to teachers in the
larger institutions of learning. The great



thrift of Frau Luther, and the bounty of
princes, enabled her to accumulate a con-
siderable property, notwithstanding her hus-
band's unbounded liberality and hospitality.

For the great house was always full to the
brim. Besides keeping a number of his own
and Katie's poor relatives, the Reformer
entertained many distinguished guests from
abroad, and a constant quota of poor stu-
dents. The latter paid for their board in
services, usually clerical, but sometimes
menial. The janitor, indeed, Wolfgang Sie-
berger, had come to Wittenberg as a student
of theology, but, unable to keep up with the
very modest requirements of the class-room,
adapted himself to a humbler ministry.

Regarding the master with unlimited
veneration, it was quite natural that these
men should keep a record of all that he said,
not only of his formal utterances in pulpit
and lecture-room, but also of his lightest
words at meals and by the evening fireside.
The first to conceive this idea, according to
his own account, was Conrad Cordatus, a
grizzled Austrian, older than his host. Con-
verted to Protestantism and ordained to the
ministry, he was unfortunately able to keep
neither his temper nor the various positions
secured for him. The long intervals while

[ xii I


he was out of work he spent at Wittenberg,
and it was during one of these, in 1531,
that, notwithstanding some qualms of deli-
cacy, he began to write in a note-book all
that he heard his host say at table. He was
not on the best of terms with his hostess,
and his importunity occasionally got him a
snub from Luther himself.

His example was promptly followed by
others. The first of these was Veit (Guy)
Dietrich, a lad who acted as Luther's private
secretary during the years 1529-1534, in
which capacity he accompanied his master
to Feste Coburg during the summer of 1530.
While at Wittenberg he fell in love with
Luther's niece and prot^g^e, Magdalene
Kaufmann. On Veit asking for her hand,
her uncle replied: " I know that my niece
would be well cared for by you, but I am not
sure that you would be well cared for by her.
She must be better brought up. If she does
not behave better I will give her to a black
smelter, and not cheat a pious, learned man
with her." This refusal damped the ardor
of the young people, each of whom shortly
found consolation elsewhere. Dietrich took
a number of private pupils, and it was his
attempt to introduce them all into the Black
Cloister (as the Luther house was called)

[ xiii 1


that led to a vigorous protest from Katie,
and his own subsequent withdrawal. As
pastor at Nuremberg for many years after,
he gave satisfaction.

A third reporter was John Schlaginhaufen,
a pale youth so obsessed with remorse for
his sins that he occasionally fell into fits,
from which he was recalled by the ghostly
advice and comfort of his revered master.
In later life he recovered sufficiently to fill
a small pastorate creditably.

Katie was not always pleased to see the
students get so much instruction gratis.
In advising her husband to charge them for
it, she noted, almost with jealousy, that
Anthony Lauterbach got the most and the
best. As his voluminous manuscripts testify,
this true-hearted young fellow did indeed
evince an almost superhuman diligence in
letting absolutely no gem of wisdom escape
him. Not content with what he heard him-
self, during two long visits in 1533 and again
from 1536 to 1539, he copied all the notes
he could collect from others, and spent a
considerable portion of his existence in
arranging and rearranging the separate say-
ings in topical order.

His friend Jerome Weller, who spent nine
years (1527-1536) of study at Wittenberg



as a guest of the Black Cloister, also took
copious notes. Another reporter was Lewis
Rabe, a refugee from the tyranny of Albert,
Archbishop of Mainz. From one of Lu-
ther's letters we learn that he sat at table
" like a maiden," apparently saying little
but hearing much. Still another member of
this devoted company was Nicholas Medler,
one of the very smallest satellites revolving
about and reflecting the rays of Germany's
great luminary.

By the end of 1539 all the students just
mentioned had left, but their places were
speedily taken by others no whit less zealous.
The first of these, both In time and in im-
portance, was John Matheslus. For many
years a schoolmaster, he never gave up the
hope of becoming a minister, and at the age
of thirty-six a lucky speculation in mines
proved the providential means of fulfilling
his pious wishes. From May to November,
1540, he was Luther's guest. When, at the
latter end of his stay, he endeavored to use
the Black Cloister as a boarding-school for
his private pupils, the Reformer consented
to receive as many as four of the boys, but,
as the number grew, requested them to seek
another refectory — more expensive, per-
haps, if less inspiring. Matheslus, however,



kept his records, and published some of
them later in his biography of the master
(1566). His manuscript as a whole, how-
ever, had to wait three hundred and fifty
years to see the light.

With Mathesius were a few other students
of whom little need be said. There was
George Plato of Hamburg, who lodged as
well as boarded at the Black Cloister in
1540; there was Caspar Heydenreich a
little later (1541-3), and Jerome Besold
(1544) and John Stolz (1542-6). Nor are
these all the names that might be men-
tioned. So much the fashion did it become to
improve each shining hour at the master's
table, that many a transient guest has left
his own tiny sheaf of gleanings. It would
serve no purpose to enumerate them all,
but we must not omit to notice George Rorer,
a Wittenberg deacon, for twenty years the
chief secretary and literary factotum of the
Reformer. Though never a boarder at the
quondam friary, he was a frequent guest,
and has left a record of some conversations.

The last of the students to take notes,
and the first to publish them, was John
Aurifaber of Mansfeld, who came to the
Reformer as an amanuensis in 1545, and re-
mained with him during the last year of his

[ xvi 1


life, being present at his death at Eisleben,
on February 18, 1546. Later he took
Lauterbach's large collection, added to it,
and published it in 1566. Just five years
later a man named Rebenstock turned
Lauterbach's collection into Latin, and pub-
lished it in that form.

It is not impossible to imagine what an
evening with Luther must have been. The
Black Cloister is still standing, and the
living rooms, one flight up, to the front, are
preserved as they were. One of them,
handsomely wainscotted in dark wood, was
used as the dining-room, apparently served
by a small spiral staircase leading to the
kitchen on the ground floor. Furnished with
a long table, and low, comfortable chairs
and benches, it was also ornamented with
silver and crystal goblets, and with paintings
by Lucas Cranach, including both portraits
and allegorical pictures. In summer, flowers
were not lacking; in winter, a large tile
stove difl'used a pleasant warmth.

As the day began at four or five, and as the
principal meal was at ten a.m., supper was
served about five, leaving a few hours for
literary work or for conversation before bed-
time at nine. Generous portions of pork,
sausage, rye-bread and other plain food were

I xvii 1


washed down with copious draughts of home-
brewed beer, or, on great occasions, with
wine. Under the genial influence of the
warmth, the company and the liquor, the
Reformer, wearied by a day of hard toil,
would unbend in a flow of conversation, em-
ploying a mixture of Latin and German. At
the far end of the table the group of children
surrounding Katie would not disturb him
sitting at the head among his guests and
students, some of whom were always strain-
ing over their notebooks, anxious lest the
least word of the great man should fall into

And what did he talk about. f* Literally,
everything. Sometimes it was a personal
reminiscence, perhaps of his far-off", unhappy
boyhood at Mansfeld, or of his student-life
at Erfurt, or of his spiritual agonies in the
cloister, or of the journey to Rome and all
he saw there — the pomp and glory, the
unexampled corruption and wickedness of
the capital of Christendom. Again he would
tell how he attacked indulgences in 1517, or
debated with Eck at Leipsic, or made the
great stand at Worms, in which he " played
a game with the pope that no king or emperor
ever played." Or, coming to later years,
he would inveigh against those " beasts,"

[ xviii ]


the peasants, who almost spoiled his work by
their inopportune revolt in 1525. Or he
would speak of his enemies, while his eyes
flashed " with good, fresh wrath." How
unbridled is his language! " I will curse a
pater-noster against the papacy, that it
get an epileptic fit"; "I will sing Psalm
Ixiv for a farewell to the papists and hope they
will howl * Amen ' to it." Nor was such
language unpleasing to the men of that day,
as it is to us. " My wrath is God's wrath,"
Luther once said, and Melanchthon added:
*' Yes, it is a heroic virtue! "

Nor were his anathemas confined to the
papists. He once remarked that there " was
a regular fraternity of skeptics in Germany,"
and the list of men he nominated for mem-
bership in this club was large. Conrad
Mutian was an atheist because he taught
that all religions were one; Erasmus was an
atheist because he criticised the text of the
New Testament; Carlstadt was an atheist
because he denied the Real Presence in the
sacrament; Campanus was worse than an
atheist because he was a Unitarian. If
Copernicus was not an atheist it was simply
because he was nothing but a big fool for
asserting that the earth went around the sun.
So with many earnest and pious men. In



that day tolerance was indeed rare; every-
body was as bad in this respect as Luther,
or at least as bad as he could be.

Often Luther talked of books, and very
sound and trenchant opinions he often gave
of them. History, particularly of the church,
furnished him with much matter; the
wickedness of the popes (especially Alexander
VI) and the virtues of Huss and the martyrs
were often on his tongue. Much he had to
say of God, both of his wrath and of his
mercy; much of his own doctrines and es-
pecially of faith, faith without works. The
Bible, the translation and exegesis of which
was his life-work, was also a constant

But it is not only his weightier words that
have come down to us. The students were
as much without reserve as the master.
Nothing was too sacred, nothing was too
trivial for them. Luther's heart-rending
grief at the death of his daughter, and
Luther's idle jests and coarse stories are all
repeated as if by dictograph. For, strange
as it may seem to us, the pious man's con-
versations with his students contained many
a free tale of the flesh, and many a word and
phrase now banished from good society.
In this he has at least the excuse of his time.


" No great man," it has been well said,^ " ever
feared coarseness; little men cannot afford
to be found ill-bred." The most unpleasant
of Luther's indelicate sayings are those about
his own wife. For these it is hard to find
an excuse even in the practice of the time;
he might have learned better from Erasmus.^
Far more to Luther's discredit than his
occasional coarseness of speech were his
harsh utterances concerning the German
peasants, the class from which he himself
sprang. The peasants were no doubt dull of
comprehension, inappreciative of their bless-
ings, and sometimes brutal, but they hardly
deserved to be called " beasts " and " swine."
The Reformer claimed that they had more
to be thankful for than the nobles themselves,
but surely his judgment on this point was
sadly warped. And one must regret also
his narrow intolerance of those who dif-
fered from him, even slightly, in religious
matters. His relentless condemnation of
sincere reformers like Zwingli, and his bitter

^ Thf Atheneum, January 13, 1912, review of Aristophanes.

*"Multo minus decet maritos apud alios jactare formam
conjugum suarum. Sed his quoque faciunt indecentius, qui
quidquid in thalamo, quidquid in lecto cum uxore nuganiur,
depraedicant in conviviis et in colloquiis apud quoslibet. Si
turpe est effere quod inter pocula dictum est, quanto turpius
est ea non continere, quorum oportebat solum cubile torumquc
conscium esse?" "Lingua," Erasmi opera, 1703, iv, 686.



persecution of certain apparently harmless
Anabaptists who came within his reach,
grew out of the same medieval attitude of
mind which made possible the horrors of the
Inquisition and the religious wars.

On the other hand the reader of these
verbatim reports of Luther's familiar talk
cannot fail to be impressed with the man's
abounding humor, which no doubt stood him
in good stead in many a time of trial, as well
as with the good sense with which he answered
most of the questions that were put to him.
Charming also are his love of children, his
fondness for music, his liberality and dis-
interestedness, his hearty appreciation of
life's blessings and his strong, simple faith
in Christ. But how often and with what
agony of soul he had to struggle with tempta-
tion! To him the devil and witches were
real beings, assailing Christians in many
ways and to be contended against con-
stantly. At times he was almost overcome
by despair. Evil influences seemed on the
increase. The world seemed so incorrigible!
But melancholy moods, occasioned, perhaps,
by bodily illness, soon yielded to the spirit
of hopefulness and courage, and to an enor-
mous and self-sacrificing industry. It no
doubt helped him also to be able to pour

[ xxii ]


out his soul so freely as he did to his Intimate

Taken as a whole, there is in all literature
no more charming or fascinating book than
these Intimate revelations of Luther's
heart. All the autobiographies and " con-
fessions " of men claimxlng to lay bare their
souls, In reality reveal but a certain pose,
generally conscious, but sometimes not.
There is Indeed Pepys, who wrote a diary in
cypher with equal, though no greater, un-
reserve than that with which Luther talked.
But what a difference In the men! On the
one hand a little rogue and coxcomb, on the
other a heart and brain of the first order of
greatness. It is Froude who calls the table
talk " one of the most brilliant books In the
world,'' and " as full of matter as Shakes-
peare's plays." It Is M^rimee who writes
to his Unknown Lady: " The other night
when I could hardly breathe I read Luther's
table talk. I like the big man with
all his prejudices and his hatred for the

It Is not remarkable that the book
has enjoyed unbounded popularity. Besides
countless reprints of the German, It has been
translated into several other languages —
twice into English. The first time was by

[ imi \


Captain Henry Bell, a soldier of fortune
who served in various diplomatic and military
positions abroad, chiefly in Brandenburg,
during the years 1606-1618. He then held
a sinecure office for some years, but in 1631,
on the charge of forging German passports
and other " foul frauds " was thrown into
prison for about ten years. Here he em-
ployed his leisure in translating the table
talk. The German copy he used, printed at
Frankfort in 1574, may now be seen at Sidney
Sussex College, Cambridge. He sent his
manuscript first to Archbishop Laud, who
kept it two years and returned it with a
present of fifty pounds. He then sent it to
the Commons with the purpose not only to
secure sole license to print, but to get an
order that the book should be put in every
church in England, as had been done in the
case of the Bible and of Erasmus' Para-
phrases. The former request was granted,
in an order of February 24, 1646-7; the
latter was apparently referred to " an As-
sembly of divines" (Convocation.^). These
reverend gentlemen reported. May 3, 1647,
that although the book contained many
good things, yet there were also many pas-
sages contrary to truth, gravity and modesty,
making it unfit for public use. The work


finally appeared five years later under the
title: Martin Luther^ s Colloquia Mensalia,
or his last Divine Discourses at his Table.
Notwithstanding the translator's assurance
that he " had the High Dutch tongue very
perfectly," his work is not scholarly, though
the quaint old English is pleasant.

Another translation of the table talk was
made in 1848 by William Hazlitt, son of the
celebrated essayist. In his introduction and
critical work he leans very heavily on the
French version made by Gustave Brunet
four years before, copying all the mistakes
of this book, even to misprints in proper
names. It is also probable that Bell's
translation is made largely from the French.
At any rate it is very inaccurate, though, in
default of a better, and because of its easy
style, it has been popular and has been often

The aim of the present translation is not,
however, so much to correct the faults of
previous ones as to bring new and impor-
tant material to the attention of the English-
speaking public. Until the present genera-
tion practically all that was known of the
table talk was the edition of Aurifaber, and
as an editor this person treated his material
with extreme freedom — suppressing, omit-



ting, expanding, and altering, to suit his
own pious, rather than scholarly, purposes.
The publication of the original records in
recent years has for the first time offered a
really good text and has also brought to
light much that was unknown to Aurifaber.
The first of these new sources to be pub-
lished was Lauterbach's " Diary for 1538,"
printed in 1872. Thirteen years afterwards
Cordatus's notes were given to the public,
and three years later those of Schlaginhaufen.
The records of Mathesius, Rabe and Hey-
denreich, with some of Lauterbach's and
Weller's, were published by Losche in 1892,
and, from a much better manuscript, with
additional notes of Besold and Plato, by
Kroker in 1903. The important manu-
scripts of Dietrich and Medler did not issue
from the press until 1912. As there are no
more sources of importance as yet unpub-
lished, the moment seems propitious for
using this vast amount of new material. So
voluminous is it that a selection only is
practicable, but, though comparatively small,
the present chrestomathy, it is hoped, will

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