I have received your letter with the two questions, or inquiries, to which you ask my reply. First, Why in translating the words of Paul, in the third chapter of Romans ( Romans 3:28), Arbitramur, hominem justificari ex fide absque operibus, I rendered them thus: “We hold that man is justified without the works of the law, only by faith”? f4 You tell me, besides, that the papists are making a tremendous fuss, because the word sola, “only,” is not in Paul’s text, and this addition of my own to God’s Word is not to be tolerated. Second, Whether the departed saintspray for us, since we read that the angels do pray for us?
With reference to the first question, you may give the papists the following answer, if you like.
First, If I, Dr. Luther, could have expected that all the papists together would be able to translate a single chapter of the Scriptures correctly and well, I should certainly have mustered up enough humility to invite their aid and assistance in putting the New Testament into German. But because I knew, — and still see with my own eyes, — that none of them knows how to translate or to speak German, I spared them and myself that trouble. It is evident, indeed, that from my translating and my German they are learning to speak and write German, and so are stealing my language, of which they had little knowledge before. They do not thank me for this, however, and prefer to use it against me. But I readily grant them this, for it is a feather in my cap that I have taught my ungrateful pupils, even my enemies, how to speak.
Second, You may say that I translated the New Testament to the best of my ability and according to my conscience. I have compelled no one to read it, but have left that free, and did the work only as a service to those who could not do it better. No one is forbidden to do a better piece of work. If anyone does not want to read it, he can let it alone. I neither ask anybody to read it nor praise anyone who does so. It is my Testament and my translation, and it shall continue to be mine. If I have made some mistakes in it, — though I am not conscious of any and would be most unwilling to give a single letter a wrong translation intentionally, — I will not suffer the papists to be the judges. Their ears are still too long and their hee-haws too weak, for them to criticize my translating. I know very well, and they know even less than the miller’s beast, how much knowledge, work, reason and understanding is required in a good translator; they have never tried it.
There is a saying, “He who builds along the road has many masters.” That is the way with me. Those who have never been able to speak rightly, to say nothing of translating, have all at once become my masters and I must be the pupil of them all. If I were to have asked them how to put into German the first two words of Matthew’s Gospel, Liber generationis, f7 none of them would have known how to say Quack! And now they sit in judgment on the whole work! Fine fellows! That is the way it was with St.
Jerome when he translated the Bible. The whole world was his master. He was the only one who could do nothing at all, and people who were not equal to cleaning his shoes condemned the good man’s work. It takes patience to do a good deed for the world at large, for the world always wants to be Master Wise-man and must always be putting the bit under the horse’s tail, directing everything, able to do nothing.
I should like to see a papist who would come forward and translate an epistle of St. Paul or one of the prophets without making use of Luther’s German translation. Then we should see a fine, beautiful German translation that we could praise! We have seen the Dresden dirt-scrawler f8 who played the master to-my New Testament. I shall not mention his name again in my books; he has his Judge, and besides he is well known. He admits that my German is sweet and good and saw that he could not improve on it; but, wanting to discredit it, he went to work and took my New Testament, almost word for word as I had written it, removed my introductions and explanations, and sold my New Testament under his own name. There! dear children, how it hurt me when his prince, in a horrible preface, condemned Luther’s New Testament and forbade the reading of it, but commanded that the scrawler’s New Testament be read, though it was the same that Luther had made!
That no one may think I am lying, let him take the two Testaments, Luther’s and the scrawler’s, and compare them, and he will see who is the translator of both. He has patched and altered it in a few places, and though this does not please me, I can endure it. It does no special harm, so far as the text is concerned. For that reason, I have never wanted to write against it, but have had to laugh at the great wisdom that so terribly slandered and condemned and forbade my New Testament, because it was published under my name, but said that it must be read when it was published under another’s name. What kind of virtue is it to heap slander and shame on another’s book, and then steal it and publish it under one’s own name, thus seeking praise and reputation by the slandered work of someone else? — this I leave to his Judge to discover. Meanwhile, I am satisfied and glad that my work, as St. Paul also claims, is furthered even by enemies, and Luther’s book, without Luther’s name and under his enemies’ name, must be read. How could I avenge myself better?
But to return to the matter in hand! If your papist wants to make so much fuss about the word sola, “alone,” tall him this: “Dr. Martin Luther will have it so, and says that a papist and an ass are the same thing.” Sic volo, sic jubeo; sit pro ratione voluntas. We are not going to be the pupils and disciples of the papists, but their masters and judges. For once, also, we are going to be proud and brag with these ass-heads, and as St. Paul glories against his madsaints, so I shall glory against these asses of mine. Are they doctors? So am I. Are they learned? So am I. Are they preachers? So am I.
Are they theologians? So am I. Are they disputants? So am I. Are they philosophers? So am I. Are they dialecticians? So am I. Are they lecturers?
I will go further with my glorying. I can expound Psalms and Prophets; they cannot. I can translate; they cannot. I can read the Holy Scriptures; they cannot. I can pray; they cannot. To come to lower things! I can use their own dialectics and philosophy better than all of them together; and besides, I know for sure that none of them understands their Aristotle. If there is a single one among them all who rightly understands one Proemium or chapter in Aristotle, I will let myself be tossed in a blanket. f12 I am not saying too much, for I was trained and practiced from my youth up in all their science and am well aware how deep and broad it is. They know very well, too, that I know all and can do all that they can. And yet these incurable fellows act toward me as though I were a visitor to the home of their science, who have only just arrived this morning and have never either seen or heard what they teach or what they can do. So gloriously do they boast of their science! They are teaching me what I knew by heart twenty years ago, so that to all their blatting and shouting I have to sing, with the harlot, “I’ve known for seven years that horseshoenails are iron.” f13 Let this be the answer to your first question. Please give these asses no other and no further answer to their blatting about the word sola than simply this: “Luther will have it so, and he is a doctor above all the doctors of the whole papacy.” It shall stay at that! Henceforth I shall simply hold them in contempt and have them held in contempt, so long as they are the kind of people, — I should say, of asses, — that they are. There are shameless nincompoops among them who have never learned their own science of sophistry, Doctor Schmidt and Doctor Dirty-nose, and their likes. And yet they match themselves against me in this matter, which is not only far beyond the reach of sophistry, but as St. Paul says, above the whole world’s wisdom and reason. Of course, an ass need not sing much; he is well enough known by his ears.
To you and to our people, however, I shall show why I chose to use the word sola, though in Romans 3:1, it was not sola, but solum or tantum that I used. So closely do the asses look at my text! However, I have used sola fide elsewhere, and I want both, — both solum and sola. I have constantly tried, in translating to produce a pure and clear German, and it has often happened that for two or three or four weeks we have sought and asked for a single word, and sometimes have not found it even then. In working at the book of Job, Master Philip, Aurogallus, and I could sometimes scarcely finish three lines in four days. Now that it is translated and complete, anyone can read and criticize it, and one now runs his eyes over three or four pages and does not stumble once. But he is not aware of the humps and lumps that were there, where now he slips along as over a planed board, while we had to sweat and toil to get the humps and lumps out of the way so that one could slide over it so finely. It is good plowing when the field is cleaned up; but rooting out the woods and the stumps and getting the field ready, — that is work that nobody wants. There is no such thing as earning the world’s thanks; God Himself can earn no thanks from it with the sun, with heaven and earth, or even with His own Son’s death.
It is just the world, and stays the world, in the devil’s name, because it does not will to be anything else.
Here, in Romans 3:1, I know right well that the word solum was not in the Greek or Latin text and had no need of the papists to teach me that. It is a fact that these four letters s-o-l-a are not there, and at these letters the asses-heads stare, like a cow at a new door. At the same time they do not see that the sense of them is there and that the word belongs there if the translation is to be clear and strong. I wanted to speak German, not Latin or Greek, since I had undertaken to speak German in the translation. But it is the nature of our German language that in speaking of two things, one of which is admitted and the other denied, we use the word “only” along with the word “not” or “no.” So we say, “The farmer brings only grain and no money”; “No, I have no money now, but only grain”; “I have only eaten and not drunk”; “Did you only write it, and not read it over?” There are innumerable cases of this kind in daily use.
In all these phrases it is the German usage, even though it is not the Latin or Greek usage, and it is the way of the German language to add the word “only,” in order that the word “not” or “no” may be more complete and clearer. To be sure, I can also say, “The farmer brings grain and no money,” but the words “no money” do not sound as full and clear as if I were to say, “The farmer brings only grain and no money.” Here the word “only” helps the word “no” so much that it becomes a complete, clear, German phrase.
We must not, like these asses, ask the Latin letters how we are to speak German; but we must ask the mother in the home, the children on the street, the common man in the marketplace about this, and look them in the mouth to see how they speak, and afterwards do our translating. That way they understand it and mark that one is speaking German to them.
For example, Christ says, Ex abundantia cordis os loquitur. If I am to follow the asses, they will lay the letters before me and translate thus: “Out of the surplus of the heart, the mouth speaketh.” Tell me, is that German?
What German understands that? What kind of thing is “surplus of the heart?” No German can say that, unless, perhaps, he wanted to say that someone had too large a heart or too much heart, though even that is not right. “Surplus of the heart” is not German, any more than is “surplus of the house,” “surplus of the stove,” “surplus of the bank.” But the mother in the home and the common man say, “What fills the heart overflows the mouth.” That is speaking good German, the kind that I have tried for and, unfortunately, have not always reached or hit upon; for the Latin letters are a great hindrance to good German speech.
Thus, for example, Judas the traitor says, in Matthew 26:8, Ut quid perditio haec? and in Mark 14:4, Ut quid perditio ista unguenti facta est? If I am to follow these asses of literalists, I must translate that: “Why has this loss of the ointment happened?” But what kind of German is that?
What German says, “Loss of the ointment has happened”? If he understands that at all, he thinks that the ointment is lost, and must be looked for and found again, though even that is obscure and uncertain.
Now if that is good German, why do they not come out and make us a fine, pretty, new German Testament like that, and let Luther’s Testament lie? I believe they would then reveal their knowledge! But a German man says, “Why this waste?” or “Why this loss? The ointment is ruined.” f20 That is good German, from which it is understood that Magdalen wasted the ointment that she poured out, and did damage. That was what Judas meant; he thought he knew a better way to dispose of it.
Again, when the angel greets Mary, he says, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord be with thee!” Up to now that has been put into bad German, because the translation has followed the Latin literally. Tell me whether that is good German! When does a German say, “You are full of grace”? What German understands what it is to be “full of grace”? He must think of a keg full of beer or a purse full of money. Therefore, I have translated it “Thou gracious one,” so that a German can think his way to what the angel meant by his greeting. Here, however, the papists will go crazy about me, because I have corrupted the Angelic Salutation, though I have not yet hit upon the best German rendering for it. Suppose I were to take the best German, and translate the salutation thus: “Hail, dear Mary,” for that is what the angel wanted to say, and what he would have said, if he had wanted to salute her in German. Suppose I had done that! I believe that they would have hanged themselves out of great devotion to the dear VirginMary, because I had thus destroyed the salutation.
But what do I care if they rage or rave? I shall not prevent them from translating as they please; but I also shall translate, not as they please, but as I please. If there is anyone who will not have it, let him let it alone and keep his criticism to himself, for I shall neither see nor hear it. They need bear no responsibility and give no account for my translating. Listen, well, to this! I shall say, “gracious Mary” and “dear Mary,” and let them say “Mary full of grace.” One who knows German knows very well what a tender, fine word that is: the dear Mary, the dear God, the dear emperor, the dear prince, the dear man, the dear child. I do not know whether this word “dear” can be said in Latin or other languages so tenderly that it rings through the heart, by all the senses, as it does in our language.
I believe that St. Luke, a master of the Greek and Hebrew tongues, wanted to render the Hebrew word that the angel used and make its meaning clear by the Greek kecharitomene; and I think that the angelGabriel spoke with Mary as he spoke with Daniel, when he called him Hamudoth and Ish hamudoth, vir desidiorum, that “Dear Daniel”; for that is Gabriel’s way of speaking as we see in Daniel. Now if I were to translate the angel’s words literally by the asses’ science, I should have to say, “Daniel, thou man of desires.” That would be pretty German! A German hears, indeed, that Luste and Begierung are German words, though not pure German words, for Lust and Begier would be better. But when the words are thus put together in the phrase “man of desires,” no German knows what is said. He thinks, perhaps, that Daniel was full of evil desires. That is fine translating! Therefore, I must let the literal words go and seek to learn how the German says what the Hebrew means by Ish Hamudoth. Then I find that the German says, “Dear Daniel,” “Dear Mary,” or “gracious maid,” “pretty maiden,” “gentle girl.” A translator must have a great store of words, so that they may be on hand when one word does not fit in every place.
And why shall I speak much or long about translating? If I were to tell the reasons for all my words and the ideas that were back of their use, I should need a year to write it. I have learned by experience what an art and what labor translating is; therefore I will suffer no papal ass or mule to be my judge or critic, for they have never tried it. He who will none of my translating, may let it alone; if anyone dislikes it or criticizes it without my knowledge and consent, the devilrepay him! If it is to be criticized, I shall do it myself; if I do not do it, then let them leave my translation in peace, and let each of them make for himself one that suits him; I bid him goodbye.
This I can testify with a good conscience, — I have been faithful and diligent to the utmost in this work and have never had a false thought. I have not taken a single heller for it, or sought one, or made one by it. Nor have I had any intention to win honor by it, — that God, my Lord, knows, — but I have done it as a service to the dear Christians and to the honor of One who sitteth above, who blesses me so much every hour of my life that, if I had translated a thousand times as much or as diligently, I still should not deserve to live a single hour or have a sound eye. All that I am and have is of His grace and mercy, nay, of His dear blood and His bittersweat. Therefore, God willing, all of it shall serve to His honor, joyfully and sincerely. Scrawlers and papal asses may abuse me, but pious Christians and Christ, their Lord, praise me! and I am repaid all too richly, if only one single Christian recognizes me as a faithful workman. I care nothing for the papal asses; they are not worthy to recognize my work, and it would grieve me to the bottom of my heart, if they praised me. Their abuse is my highest glory and honor. Still, I would be a doctor, nay, a wonderful doctor; and that name they shall not take from me till the Last Day, that I know for sure.
On the other hand, I have not disregarded literal meanings too freely, but with my helpers, I have been very careful to see that when a passage is important, I have kept the literal meaning, and not departed freely from it.
It would have been better German to say, “On him hath God the Father put His mark,” or “It is he whom God the Father means.” But I preferred to do violence to the German language, rather than depart from the words.
Translating is not an art that everyone can practice, as the madsaints think; it requires a right pious, faithful, diligent, God-fearing, experienced, practiced heart. Therefore I hold that no false Christian, or sectarian, f28 can be a faithful translator. That is shown in the translation of the Prophets made at Worms. It has been carefully done and approaches my German very closely; but Jews had a hand in it, and they do not show sufficient reverence for Christ; otherwise there is knowledge and care enough in it.
Now, however, I was not only relying on the nature of the languages and following that when, in Romans 3:28, I inserted the word solum, “only,” but the text itself and the sense of St. Paul demanded it and forced it upon me. He is dealing, in that passage, with the main point of Christiandoctrine, viz., that we are justified by faith in Christ, without any works of the law, and he cuts away all works so completely, as even to say that the works of the law, though it is God’s law and His Word, do not help us to righteousness. He cites Abraham as an example and says that he was justified so entirely without works, that even the highest work, which had then been newly commanded by God, before and above all other works, namely circumcision, did not help him to righteousness, but he was justified by faith, without circumcision and without any works at all. So he says, in Chapter 4, “If Abraham was justified by works, he may glory, but not before God.” But when works are so completely cut away, the meaning of it must be that faith alone justifies, and one who would speak plainly and clearly about this cutting away of all works, must say, “Faith alone justifies us, and not works.” The matter itself, and not the nature of the language only, compels this translation. “Nay,” say they, “it has an offensive sound, and the common people understand it to mean that they need do no good works.” Dear sir, what are we to say? Is it not much more offensive that St. Paul himself does not say “faith alone,” but makes it even plainer and goes to the very limit, f30 and says “Without the works of the law”? In Galatians 1:1, also, and in many other places, he says “Not by the works of the law.” A gloss might be found for the words “faith alone,” but the words “without the works of the law” are so plain and offensive and scandalous that they cannot be helped out by any gloss. How much rather might people learn not to do any good works, when they hear this preaching about works put in such plain, strong words: “No works,” “without works,” not by works”! If it is not offensive when one preaches “without works,” “no works,” “not by works,” why should it be offensive when one preaches, “by faith alone”?
And what is still more of an offense, St. Paul does not reject simple, common works, but “the works of the law.” From that it would be quite possible for someone to take offense and say that the law is condemned and accursed before God, and we ought to do nothing but evil, as the people said, in Romans 3:8, “Let us do evil that good may come.
This is the very thing that a spirit of discord began to do in our time.
Dear fellow, St. Paul and we wanted to give this offense, and we preach so strongly against works and insist on faith alone, for no other reason than that people may be offended and stumble and fall, in order that they may learn to know that they do not become righteous by good works, but only by Christ’s death and resurrection. Now if they cannot become righteous by the good works of the law, how much less shall they become righteous by bad works, and without the law! It does not follow, therefore, that because good works do not help, bad works do help; anymore than it follows that because the sun cannot help a blind man to see, night and darkness must, therefore, help him to see.
I am surprised that anyone can make such a fuss over a matter as evident as this. Tell me whether Christ’s death and resurrection are works of ours that we are to do, or not. They are not our works or the works of any law.
Tell me, further, what is the work by which we seize and hold Christ’s death and resurrection? It cannot be any external work, but only the eternalfaith that is in the heart. Faith alone, nay, all alone, without any works, seizes this death and resurrection when it is preached by the Gospel. Why then, this raging and raving, this heretic making and burning at the stake, when the case is so plain and well founded, and it is proved that faith alone seizes Christ’s death and resurrection, without any works, and that His death and resurrection are our life and our righteousness? Since, then, it is so clear that only faith brings us, grasps for us, and gives us this life and righteousness, why should we not say so? It is no heresy that faith alone lays hold on Christ and gives life; and yet it must be heresy, if anyone says it. Are they not mad, foolish, and quite beside themselves? They admit that the thing is right, but brand the saying of the thing as wrong, though nothing can be both right and wrong at the same time.
I am not the only one or the first to say that faith alone justifies. Ambrose said it before me, and Augustine and many others; and if a man is going to read St. Paul and understand him, he will have to say the same thing and can say nothing else. Paul’s words are too strong; they endure no works, none at all; and if it is not a work, it must be faith alone. How could it be such a fine, improving inoffensive doctrine, if people were taught that they might become righteous by works, beside faith? That would be as much as to say that it was not Christ’s death alone that takes away our sins, but that our works, too, did something toward it; and it would be a fine honoring of Christ’s death to say that our works helped it and could do that which He does, and that we were good and strong like Him. This is of the devil, who cannot leave the blood of Christ without abuse!
The matter itself demands, then, that it be said, “Faith alone justifies,” and the nature of our German languageteaches us to express it that way. I have the precedent of the holy Fathers also, and the peril of the people compels me to it, so that they may not continue to hang upon works and be without faith, and lose Christ, especially in these days, when they have been so long accustomed to works and have to be torn away from them by force.
Therefore, it is not only right but highly necessary to speak out as plainly and fully as possible, and say, “Faith alone, without works, justifies.” I am only sorry that I did not also add the words alle and aller, and say, “without any works of any laws,” so that it would have been said fully and roundly.
Therefore it shall stay in my New Testament and, though all the papal asses become mad and foolish, they shall not get it out.
Let this be enough for the present. If God gives me grace, I shall have more to say about it in the tract On Justification. f33 Coming to the second question, whether the departed saintspray for us, I shall give you only a brief answer, for I have it in mind to publish a sermon on the angels, in which, God willing! I shall treat this point further.
In the first place, you know that under the papacy it is taught that the saints in heaven do pray for us, though we cannot know this, since the Scriptures tell us no such thing. Not only so, but the saints have been made gods, so that they have to be our patrons, on whom we call, even though some of them have never existed. To each of these saints some special power and might have been ascribed. One has power over fire, another over water, another over pestilence, fever and all kinds of disease. Indeed it seems that God has to be idle and let the saintswork and act in His stead. This abomination the papists themselves now feel, and they are quietly pulling in their pipes, and adorning themselves now with this teaching about the intercession of the saints. I shall defer this subject for the present; but that will not matter; I shall not forget it and allow their self-adornment to go unpunished.
In the second place, you know that there is not a single word of God commanding us to call on either angels or saints to intercede for us, and we have no example of it in the Scriptures. There we find that the angels spoke with the fathers and the prophets but none of these angels was asked to intercede for them. So Jacob, the father of them all, did not ask the angel, with whom he fought, for any intercession, but only took a blessing from him. On the contrary, we find, in the Apocalypse, that the angel would not allow himself to be worshiped by John. Thus the worship of saints shows itself to be a mere trumpery of men and an invention of their own, outside the Word of God and the Scriptures.
It is not proper, however, for us to undertake anything in the way of worship without God’s Word, and one who does so is tempting God.
Therefore it is not to be advised or endured that one should call upon the departed saints to intercede for him or should teach others to do it; but it is rather to be condemned and others are to be taught to avoid it. For this reason I, too, shall not advise it and so burden my conscience with other peoples’ iniquities. It was exceedingly bitter for me to tear myself away from the worship of the saints, for I was steeped and fairly drowned in it.
But the light of the Gospel is now so clear that henceforth no one has any excuse to remain in darkness. We all know very well what we ought to do.
Finally, we are certain that God is not angry with us, and that we are secure, even if we do not call upon the saints to intercede for us. He has never commanded it. He says that He is a jealousGod, Who visits their iniquities on those who do not keep His commandments; but here there is no commandment and therefore no wrath to be feared. Since, then, there is on this side security and on that side great danger and offense against God’s Word, why should we betake ourselves from security into danger, since we have no word of God to hold us, strengthen us, and rescue us in that need? For it is written, “He who gladly runs into danger shall perish therein,” and God’s command says, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” “Nay,” say they, “that way you condemn the whole Church, which has hitherto observed this practice everywhere.” I reply: I know full well that the priests and monks seek this cloak for their abominations and want to put off on the Church the damage that they have done by their own neglect, so that if we say, “The Church does not err,” we will be saying at the same time that they do not err, and thus they may not be accused of any lies or errors, since that is what the Church holds. Thus no pilgrimage can be wrong, however plainly the devil is along; no indulgence, however gross the lies that are told about it. In a word, there is nothing there but holiness. Therefore in answering them, you should say that this is not a question of who is and who is not condemned. They inject this foreignquestion in order to lead us away from our case. We are now discussing God’s Word; what the Church is or does belongs elsewhere; the question here is, what is or is not God’s Word; what is not God’s Word does not make a Church.
Nay, dear asses, come along and say that this is the teaching of the Church, — these stinking lies which you villains and traitors have imposed by force upon the Church and over which you archmurderers have slain many Christians. Every letter of every papal law shows that nothing is ever taught with the counsel or by the will of the Church. There is nothing there but districte precipiendo mandamus. That has been their Holy Ghost.
This tyranny the Church has had to endure; it has been robbed of the Sacrament and, by no fault of its own, it has been held in captivity. And the asses would palm off this intolerable tyranny of theirs on us as a willing act of the Church and an example, and so adorn themselves.
But this is getting too long. Let this be answer enough to your questions this time; more another time. Pardon this long letter. Christ our Lord be with us all. Amen.