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  • WORKS OF MARTIN LUTHER -
    LETTER TO JOHN STAUPITZ ACCOMPANYING THE “RESOLUTIONS” TO THE 95 THESES


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    To his Reverend and Dear Father JOHN STAUPITZ, Professor of Sacred Theology, Vicar of the Augustinian Order, Brother Martin Luther, his pupil, sendeth greeting.

    I remember, dear Father, that once, among those pleasant and wholesome talks of thine, with which the Lord Jesus ofttimes gives me wondrous consolation, the word poenitentia F86 was mentioned, We were moved with pity for many consciences, and for those tormentors who teach, with rules innumerable and unbearable, what they call a modus confitendi . F87 Then we heard thee say as with a voice from heaven, that there is no true penitence which does not begin with love of righteousness and of God, and that this love, which others think to be the end and the completion of penitence, is rather its beginning.

    This word of thine stuck in me like a sharp arrow of the mighty, and from that time forth I began to compare it with the texts of Scripture which teach penitence. Lo, there began a joyous game! The words frollicked with me everywhere! They laughed and gamboled around this saying. Before that there was scarcely a word in all the Scriptures more bitter to me than “penitence,” though I was busy making pretences to God and trying to produce a forced, feigned love; but now there is no word which has for me a sweeter or more pleasing sound than “penitence.” For God’s commands are sweet, when we find that they are to be read not in books alone, but: in the wounds of our sweet Savior.

    After this it came about that, by the grace of the learned men who dutifully teach us Greek and Hebrew, I learned that this word is in Greek metanoia and is derived from meta and noun, i.e., post and mentem , F88 so that poenitentia or metanoia is a “coming to one’s senses,” and is a knowledge of one’s own evil, gained after punishment has been accepted and error acknowledged; and this cannot possibly happen without a change in our heart and our love. All this answers so aptly to the theology of Paul, that nothing, at least in my judgment, can so aptly illustrate St. Paul.

    Then I went on and saw that metanoia can be derived, though not without violence, not only from post and mentem , but also from trans and mentem , F89 so that metanoia signifies a changing F90 of the mind and heart, because it seemed to indicate not only a change of the heart, but also a manner of changing it, i.e., the grace of God. For that “passing over of the mind, F91 which is true repentance, is of very frequent mention in the Scriptures.

    Christ has displayed the true significance of that old word “Passover”; and long before the Passover, Abraham was a type of it, when he was called a “pilgrim,” i.e., a “Hebrew,” F92 that is to say, one, who “passed over” into Mesopotamia, as the Doctor of Bourgos F93 learnedly explains. With this accords, too, the title of the Psalm in which Jeduthun, i.e., “the pilgrim,” F94 is introduced as the singer.

    Depending on these things, I ventured to think those men false teachers who ascribed so much to works of penitence that they left us scarcely anything of penitence itself except trivial satisfactions F95 and laborious confession, because, forsooth, they had derived their idea from the Latin words poenitentiam agere , F96 which indicate an action, rather than a change of heart, and are in no way an equivalent for the Greek metanoia .

    While this thought was boiling in my mind, suddenly new trumpets of indulgences and bugles of remissions began to peal and to bray all about us; but they were not intended to arouse us to keen eagerness for battle. In a word, the doctrine of true penitence was passed by, and they presumed to praise not even that poorest part of penitence which is called “satisfaction,” F97 but the remission of that poorest part of penitence; and they praised it so highly that such praise was never heard before. Then, too, they taught impious and false and heretical doctrines with such authority (I wished to say “with such assurance”) that he who even muttered anything to the contrary under his breath, would straightway be consigned to the flames as a heretic, and condemned to eternal malediction.

    Unable to meet their rage half-way, I determined to enter a modest dissent, and to call their teaching into question, relying on the opinion of all the doctors and of the whole Church, that to render satisfaction is better than to secure the remission of satisfaction, i.e., to buy indulgences. Nor is there anybody who ever taught otherwise. Therefore, I published my Disputation; F98 in other words, I brought upon my head all the curses, high, middle and low, which these lovers of money (I should say “of souls”) are able to send or to have sent upon me. For these most courteous men, armed, as they are, with very dense acumen, since they cannot deny what I have said, now pretend that in my Disputation I have spoken against the power of the Supreme Pontiff. F99 That is the reason, Reverend Father, why I now regretfully come out in public. For I have ever been a lover of my corner, and prefer to look upon the beauteous passing show of the great minds of our age, rather than to be looked upon and laughed at. But I see that the bean must appear among the cabbages, F100 and the black must be put with the white, for the sake of seemliness and loveliness.

    I ask, therefore, that thou wilt take this foolish work of mine and forward it, if possible, to the most Excellent Pontiff, Leo X, where it may plead my cause against the designs of those who hate me. Not that I wish thee to share my danger! Nay, I wish this to be done at my peril only. Christ will see whether what I have said is His or my own; and without His permission there is not a word in the Supreme Pontiff’s tongue, nor is the heart of the king in his own hand. He is the Judge whose verdict I await from the Roman See.

    As for those threatening friends of mine, I have no answer for them but that word of Reuchlin’s — “He who is poor fears nothing; he has nothing to lose.” Fortune I neither have nor desire; if I have had reputation and honor, he who destroys them is always at work; there remains only one poor body, weak and wearied with constant hardships, and if by force or wile they do away with that (as a service to God), they will but make me poorer by perhaps an hour or two of life. Enough for me is the most sweet Sayior and Redeemer, my Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom I shall always sing my song; if any one is unwilling to sing with me, what is that to me? Let him howl, if he likes, by himself.

    The Lord Jesus keep thee eternally, my gracious Father! Wittenberg, Day of the Holy Trinity, MDXVIII.

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